Poseidon/Neptune sculpture in Copenhagen Port — Hans Andersen

Kafkaeseque Leadership

► Adapted from Franz Kafka’s short story, Poseidon.

Paul Siden sat at his desk, reviewing the reports. The position of SVP of Natural Resources provided him with a continuous endowment of work to do. He could have had any number of support staff, and indeed he already had rather a large contingent of admin support. But since he took his job seriously he insisted on reviewing all the reports in considerable detail himself, and his staff were of little help in the end.

It couldn’t be said that he enjoyed the work — he carried it out simply because it was assigned to him; indeed he had often applied for what he called more meaningful work, but whenever alternatives were suggested to Paul it turned out nothing really suited him so much as the work he was currently doing. In fact, it was difficult for him to find another role. After all, as founder and leader of the department he couldn’t be put in charge of any particular natural resource. Any such work would be, by definition, beneath him — an SVP-type could really only hold an SVP role. When he was offered a position outside of Natural Resources, merely imagining what that would be like made him ill. Nobody really took his concerns seriously; when a person in a senior-level role complains one must pretend to yield, however hopeless the case may seem. No one ever really considered relieving Paul of his position; he had been destined to be the SVP of Natural Resources since time immemorial, and that was how it had to remain.

What bothered him most — and this was the root cause of his dissatisfaction with the role — was to hear the rumours that were circulating about him. For example, there was the perception amongst people in the far reaches of his organization that he was constantly flying from office to lovely-designed office, making free use of his expense account and practicing what was called “seagull management”. In fact, what people didn’t see was that Paul was trapped very much inside one particular office, behind one specific desk, endlessly reviewing reports. The only interruption in this sad routine was the occasional, but regularly scheduled, meeting with his boss Julie Peter — a meeting from which he would invariably return in a furious temper. Consequently, he had hardly ever seen the operations in his care, let alone other offices (save for the hastily-requested trips to HQ).

Paul liked to say that he was delaying his site visits until after the company went out of business, since only then might he find a quiet moment, having reviewed his very last report, where he could make a quick little tour of the odd facility under his vast remit.