Monday, June 28, 2010

Style and Self-Deception

I was once perplexed by an executive who, although thoroughly incompetent, seemed to thrive. Promotions and desirable assignments drifted his way. He had some connections to be sure, but no more than some other contenders, and yet his blunders never caught up with him.

What I missed at the time was he had two characteristics that several of his rivals lacked:

He was charismatic and he looked the part.

Do not underestimate the power of that combination. Consider Fidel Castro, a brutal dictator by any standard. He is the chief warden of an island prison-state where people are imprisoned and tortured for speaking out for basic liberties and yet he attracts an array of fawning visitors and admirers. Why? Because he is charismatic and looks the part. Make him a bland banker-type in a rumpled suit and many if not all of those enraptured supporters in Europe and the United States would be calling for his scalp.

They are not judging him by reality. They are judging him by what they wish he would be; by their romantic image of the brave revolutionary. Castro stands as an extreme example of the tendency of many to view reality through the mists of a dream instead of a clear window.

Sometimes, the thugs and the incompetents are the most charming and attractive people in the room. They may be eloquent. They may dress well, have great smiles, and hug small children.

But they are still thugs and incompetents.

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