Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 


One day they're lovely, praising your talents, lauding your unique skills.

The next, they're tearing you a new one, as if the old one was made of rough canvas and and a few bits of bramble.

What is it with bosses who so readily lose it without realizing that they might be losing things like respect in the process?

You're really not going to believe this, so I'm going to test your patience. (Perhaps you're actually one of those bosses.)

I've been moved, you see, by research from Michigan State University.

These Spartans of psychology have delved into bosses' moods and penned the results of their observations.

Did you see how I gave you a clue there?

Yes, it seems that bosses get mad because they're so darned ethical.

I feel sure that if I'd left you to cogitate for the next 740 years while I explored scientific progress in eternal life, I'd come back to find you hadn't guessed that one.

The logic seems to be this: Following the rules and being generally ethical depletes your ability to control yourself.

You're losing it because you're trying so hard to fight the good fight, as opposed to being as untrustworthy, capricious and solidly corrupt as the next manager.

Please don't worry, there's more.

It seems that being a so-called good person gives you permission -- a "moral license" -- to be nasty to others.

Research leader Russell Johnson put it like this: "When leaders felt mentally fatigued and morally licensed after displays of ethical behavior, they were more likely to be abusive toward their subordinates on the next day."

Ethical bosses have a license not to thrill, but to be shrill. And to curse, snort with derision and generally tell their employees how useless they are.

"Ridiculing, insulting and expressing anger toward employees, giving them the silent treatment and reminding them of past mistakes or failures," are how the research group described the various ethical-boss behaviors.

I can feel you reeling from the twistedness of being good giving you permission to be utterly nasty.

Johnson, indeed, posits that companies might wonder about formal rules for ethical behavior.

I thought many had.

However, he says that if ethical behavior is codified (and, who knows, pinned to the lunchroom notice board) "then it's more difficult for people to feel they've earned credit for performing something that is mandatory."

I always knew that humans weren't quite right. But this explanation for Moody Boss Syndrome is quite something.

The kink is spectacular. Johnson believes that bosses are more likely to enjoy a sense of moral license when it was their own idea to be ethical in the first place.

Let us pause. (I feel some seething in my neighborhood.)

Mean bosses are mean because no one told them to be ethical. Instead, they just decided to do it for themselves.

However, the pressure that comes with that decision, the sheer bravery, the challenge to their own mental faculties and to their natural temptation to be a mean old banjo of bolshiness actually turns them in a mean old banjo of bolshiness.

The next day, that is.

I love science almost as much as I love humans.