As someone who has never worked full-time in a truly corporate environment, I can sense the fevered terrors within, but I experience them as shadows on cave walls. Or on my LinkedIn feed, as the case may be.
One of the unmistakable shivers I get comes when executives I don’t know well or at all, describe other executives I don’t know well or at all, in terms like “amazing,” “brilliant,” or “a wonderful human.”
It sounds magnanimous. It is megalomaniacal.
If you and I work and travel in the same circles and I pronounce some new member of our world smart or good, you may trust my assessment—because we share a common frame of reference for smartness and goodness.
So if I call a new acquaintance funny, say, here’s what happens in your brain: You instantly think of the funniest person we both know. It’s Fran, of course. I mean, there’s funny, and then there’s Fran funny, amiright? Unfortunately, we also share a common reference for the dullest drudge we know. (Jake, bless his heart.) Well, you know if I’m calling this newbie funny, that at least means the person is on the Fran side of our unofficial Fran-to-Jake Scale of Humorousness-to-Humorlessness.
Based on all our common experience together, you and I have developed similar unspoken but shared scales, for intelligence, wisdom, decency, competence, candor, ambition, and general amazingness—whatever qualities we value in human beings, whatever things we want our friends and colleagues to be. That is catty and judge-y and cliquish enough!
But if you and I don’t inhabit the same world, and thus don’t share these scales in common and you just walk up to me on the street and say you met someone who is brilliant or kind—well, now you’re just appointing yourself the arbiter of intelligence or human virtue. And that’s just about as presumptuous as it can be, as it assumes you must be near the pinnacle of virtuousness because it takes a rock star to anoint a rock star, right?
And whether they say it or think it, your audience can’t help but react to skeptically: “I’ll be the judge of that.” And worse, “Who do you think you are?”
This behavior isn’t limited to the corporate world, or to LinkedIn—I’ve certainly run across it at the Old Ebbitt Grill in D.C.—but it strikes me as the seeming sunny side of the kind of sociopathic corporate posturing that I’ve been fortunate enough, for most of my life, to avoid suffering—and committing!—firsthand.
As you, no doubt, are brilliant enough to appreciate.