Pointy Haired Boss Transitive Closure

  1. Your boss is a PointyHairedBoss.
  2. The boss of a PointyHairedBoss must also be a PointyHairedBoss to hire and/or keep that bozo around.
  3. By induction, it's PointyHairedBosses all the way up.

So what do you call someone who continues to stay at a job managed by a chain of PointyHairedBosses?

(a) A civil servant. Commercial entities are immune?

(b) Transitively closed.

(c) Recession-locked.


"... [Therefore] it's PointyHairedBosses all the way up."

This is amusing, but not accurate, either in DilBert's world or in reality. In DilBert, the PointyHairedBoss relishes the arbitrary and apparently unlimited power he wields over the miserable engineers who are his direct underlings, but he lives in fear of SeniorManagement?, who are an order of beings entirely above him. They have their own shortcomings and weaknesses, to be sure, but his are not theirs. Indeed, many of the PointyHairedBoss's most amusing and most exasperating misjudgements (which are the only judgements he makes) are in an effort to please or at least placate them. And pleasing SeniorManagement? is almost the only thing he does well (which is how he became, and how he stays, a PHB). In fact, part of the point of DilBert as I understand it is that pleasing SeniorManagement? (and thereby surviving) so often depends crucially on doing what is clearly, from an engineer's perspective, The Wrong Thing To Do. The point is that SeniorManagement? are aware of, and driven by, forces with which engineers and first-level managers have nothing to do: such as the near-term value of StockOptions?. Conversely SeniorManagement? are oblivious of both the people management concerns of the PHBs and the esthetic and ethical concerns of the engineers.

Like so much else in DilBert, this representation of the castes skates on the thin edge of being TooTrueToBeFunny.


I think there's more truth to PointyHairedBossTransitiveClosure than that: the theorem has applicability until the concerns that management has to deal with have a sufficiently sharp break across levels that one can be a good manager at one level, but have little idea as to what makes sense two levels below.

I would be prepared to concede that this can be true, although I'd appreciate an example.

Read SlowPoison, which deals with the process by which PointyHairedBossTransitiveClosure comes into being. In my own experience, where there is a PointyHairedBoss, there is always a problem higher up the management chain as well. After all, if you've got someone who you directly manage who is actively screwing things up, shouldn't you be able to tell?


John Maxwell describes the typical situation with a large organization. Let us say that we can rate everybody from 1-10 (Warning: gross generalization). Lets say your typical manager is a 5. If they hire someone who is also a 5 (or more), then they have the (subconscious) worry (with some justification) that they might endanger their own job.

(Which may help in practical interviewing scenarios - if you have the predatory instincts of Bill Gates, the genius of Einstein, and the worship of millions like the Dalai Lama, you *must* disavow all intention of becoming a manager, or else you'll never get hired by a manager... :-)

So a manager who is a 5 will hire 4s or less... maybe 3s or less, just to make sure.

So even if they only hire one level down, and each person hires only two people below them (1023 total people in the organization) the average rating is going to be just fractionally short of 2.0 (1.990225).

The brilliant people at the top are drowned out by the great mass of losers at the bottom.

The great problem with organizations is creating an environment in which a manager will have the courage to hire someone who is a higher rating than they are.

--Rick Carson

I've never actually seen an organization with the brightest people at the top. I'm not even sure this could happen in much of the 'tech' sector, as in this particular sector middle management tends to be much less intellectually demanding than some of the 'lower tier' jobs that are needed. Being bright and having any desire to run a company are really not that well correlated, if you think about it. I should expand a little on above. There are many examples of an undeniably bright person(s) at the top of a company. However, the above suggests that there is a pyramid effect of 'brilliant' on top of a heap of 'losers'. In most tech companies I have seen, most if not all middle management are not as intelligent nor as educated as at least some of their charges. So while you may or may not have a `brilliant' leader; you are likely to have a sea of mediocrity in middle management, and equally likely to have some bright people nominally lower in a hier. chart.
If this is true, then George Bush is the Meta-PHB for all of America's corporations and therefore responsible for inefficiencies orders of magnititude above all humans on earth?
See ExtremeFrustration, ChronicComplainer

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