The Rise and Demise of Competent Jerks at Enron

I am particularly interested in the power dynamics that occurred at Enron.  Enron was a formal organization.  Power in formal organizations is determined by the design of the organization: certain power is attached to positions, which becomes available to any individual who fills that position.  Enron’s top executives all assumed these powerful positions but the dynamics between the group seemed to reflect the theories of power in informal groups.

In informal groups, individual power is determined by certain characteristics held by each leader.  Attributes such as energy and physical stamina, an ability to focus one’s interests and energies, sensitivity to others, their interests and needs, flexibility as conditions change, and an ability to tolerate conflict.  Skilling, Mark, Fastow, and Lay all had certain attributes that gave them power.  The inequality of power comes from when certain individuals are dependent on others for attaining goals.  The individuals without the resources to repay the other for their services must “subordinate himself to the other and comply with his wishes, thereby rewarding the other with power over himself as an inducement for furnishing the needed help” (Scott and Davis 204-205).  Each of these executives was forced to subordinate themselves at one time or another which further complicated the power dynamics in Enron.

In addition to this, I am also interested in applying the idea of the Lovable Fool versus Competent Jerk to this organization.  At Enron, competent jerks filled all of the top management positions except for Ken Lay, who I would consider a lovable fool.  Skilling, Mark, and Fastow were brilliant masterminds of their perspective crafts but had little care for anything but making money.  Their arrogance and secrecy alone led Enron to collapse.  Ken Lay, on the otherhand, remained a lovable fool to many.  I feel he had little to no idea of the troubles that Enron actually had when the company was beginning to fall apart.  Ken Lay was too busy being a figurehead and trying to please everyone.  I think Enron presents an interesting case of what happens when too many competent jerks occupy the top positions at a corporation but one lovable fool is given the title position so these jerks can continue to operate under the radar. Furthermore, I am interested in the culture that this type of leadership set up instilled in the organization.

To conduct research, I started with the Bucknell library database.  On JSTOR, I found two books at the library that will prove to be helpful to me as I proceed.  They are Enron Ethics (Or: Culture Matters More than Codes) and Beyond Enron: Toward Economic Democracy and a New Ethic of Inclusion

I am still trying to find more information on the lovable fool and competent jerk idea.  Any suggestions as to where to look would be greatly appreciated!

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5 Responses

  1. TAGS!

  2. oops! fixed it!

  3. In the black!

  4. I don’t think JSTOR has records of books. Are those two sources books? Maybe you found reviews in journals about them if they are books?

    Did you look at the original research on competent jerks and lovable fools? That might be a source, its bibliography, or other work by its authors.

    Finally, what about stars (likable and skillful)? Weren’t there some stars at Enron?

  5. […] The Rise and Demise of Competent Jerks at Enron […]

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