Ghosts In The Executive Suite

Ghosts In The Executive Suite


Leonard Zwelling

In The Wall Street Journal on February 18, sports writer supreme Jason Gay waxes poetic on the “ghost runner” employed in Major League Baseball. The ghost runner is the guy they put on second base at the start of every extra inning to increase the likelihood of a game-ending run scoring and accelerating the pace of the game. It was introduced recently (2020) and seems to be hanging on despite purists like me thinking it is absolutely ridiculous. As Gay points out, ghost runners used to be employed in sandlot ball when there weren’t enough players to field a full team of nine. (If there was a ghost runner on third and the next batter singled, the batting team got credit for a run). Now, along with ghost runners, the MLB will introduce a pitch clock and larger bases in an effort to tinker with the game and bring back fans who have deserted to the NFL and NBA, let alone Major League Soccer.

Gay goes on to wonder whether ghosts should be employed in the workplace. That way instead of sitting through another boring meeting with the boss, you can hit the links for a quick nine. Gay also notes that with the rapid advance of artificial intelligence, AI may begin to demand ghosting for the tasks it has been saddled with. Hmm. Pretty soon no one will be working and the ghosts will have the run of the office. It’s my argument that this has already occurred.

Oh, I’m wrong? Go ahead and try to get service of any kind anywhere. Not very easy. You would welcome a ghost the next time you call your credit card company or your cell phone carrier. It would be better than the recorded device or “Bob” from Mumbai.

It is the opinion of this blog that this has already happened at many academic centers as well. People with little or no experience overseeing matters over which they have been put in charge are constantly hiring more and more surrogates to do what they cannot do and they cannot do it from afar given that all the meetings are on zoom and for all we know, the executive overseeing the meeting is in Colorado. A ghost of the Rockies. I fear this may be true of division heads and department chairs as well who view their jobs as delegation, obfuscation, and pushing the mute button.

I do have a creative suggestion or two.

First, everybody back to the office. Covid is with us forever. We will probably need to get yearly vaccinations to decrease the likelihood of serious illness just as we do for influenza. That’s just a fact. As an old person, I simply do not find zoom meetings as effective as in person ones for fully communicating as humans do—with facial expressions, body language, and voice modulation. All of these things are best perceived in person. Zoom meetings are no substitute for real ones.

Second, the value of the chance encounter with a colleague cannot be overestimated. These are virtually eliminated when no one is in the office.

Third, sorry folks, but a manager really cannot assess how much work is getting done by individuals who don’t come to work. You evaluate a ghost. Go ahead.

The ghost runner of baseball has become the ghost employee.

This is also true of the leadership of our corporate and academic institutions. They cannot be as effective at a distance. They need to be able to really hear the problems with which their employees are dealing and to, as LBJ would say, “press the flesh.”

The pandemic was a disaster for productivity in many walks of life including academic medicine. While we will probably never be able to put Covid behind us permanently as the virus seems to be infinitely mutable, we can protect ourselves as much as possible with vaccines and newer antivirals and then get back to business.

The ghost runner is so silly that the MLB will not use It in the playoffs. Ghost CEOs are also useless. They need to be replaced by the real thing.

Did you know? Dr. Zwelling’s new book “Conflict of Interest” becomes available Spring 2023. Check for the latest on this book and information on how you can purchase a copy.

2 thoughts on “Ghosts In The Executive Suite”

  1. Not to mention…. Ghost Leaders are in direct contradiction to values such as caring, integrity & stewardship. To maintain these three are fulfilled through a virtual visit on a Hollywood Squares platform is hypocritical and insulting. It reeks of self-serving inauthentic leadership. Again, exquisite opposition to the favored mantra of “servant leadership”.

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