Monday, February 12, 2007

Leaders: Beware your inner Dombey

Inspired by a Ron Rosenbaum article reprinted in his massive collection, The Secret Parts of Fortune, I am 700-odd pages into Charles Dickens’ Dombey and Son and particularly engrossed with Mr. Dombey himself, the very chilly patriarch of the troubled and fast-dwindling family. In fact, except for a sycophantic sister, Dombey is pretty much on his own these days. His first wife and young son are dead; his daughter and second wife have fled his house.

Dombey, the head of prosperous London counting house, is a man consumed by his own power, position, and wealth. Here’s how Dickens has Carker, Dombey’s second-in-command and the novel’s chief villain, describe him:

“You did not know how exacting and how proud he is, or how he is, if I may say so, the slave of his own greatness, and goes yoked to his own triumphal car like a beast of burden, with no idea on earth but that it is behind him and is to be drawn, over everything and through everything.”
There’s a depiction of a major source of executive hubris that is as applicable today as it was in London 160 years ago.

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