Tuesday, December 05, 2020

The Untold Power of Concentrated Weakness

When I look at the state of business and leadership today, it’s easy to become angry. Worse, it’s very tempting to believe that mankind is such a wretched, flawed kind of creature that there is little hope for any better future. The comments sent in to me and to this blog contain so many heart-wrenching stories of abuse by bosses and organizations. It’s enough to dampen the most optimistic outlook. Yet I am still hopeful. While realism must be faced and all the failures pointed out, there is really no point in doing even that, if no change is possible. We can build a better kind of organization, as long as enough people want to do it.

Greed, arrogance, and meanness are everywhere. That is true. Too many bosses are bullies and jerks. That is also true; even one jerk in a position of authority is one too many. Organizations are frequently short-sighted and obsessed with quarterly financial results, even though that usually harms them in the longer term and frequently limits their success. “Business as usual” too often means making all the same old mistakes, over and over again, as if no one had a brain capable of learning from experience or grasping the inevitable relationship between cause and effect. Most executives are highly educated and, presumably, well above the average in intelligence. Yet there are times when they act like the most foolish, intellectually-challenged of creatures. Most pet cats have a greater sense of the need for balance between action and reflection (often alas, in cats, indistinguishable from sleep) than do the inhabitants of the boardrooms of major corporations.

So why do I remain optimistic? Simply because we got ourselves into this mess, consciously and deliberately, and we can therefore get ourselves out.

We created today’s organizational nightmares by focusing on the short-term, by putting money before everything else, and by clinging to a faulty assumption that immediate profit is the sole interest of shareholders. Because most managers are clever and hard-working, and applied these mistaken notions diligently, they built organizations that are extremely efficient at making quick money and supremely ineffective at making the majority of those who work in them happy or satisfied.

What might happen if leaders took a long-term view? If they saw money as only one of the potential ways of measuring the success and value of an organization?
Suppose you changed the focus and the assumptions? What might happen if leaders took a long-term view? If they saw money as only one of the potential ways of measuring the success and value of an organization? If they assumed that shareholders might be interested in owning part of a business that made them proud of its achievements, as well as producing steady returns on their investment?

Probably some of you will object that this is all very well, but is hopelessly idealistic. I agree—but reject the “hopelessly.” Pragmatism won’t change the world—or even the outlook of a single organization. Pragmatism demands fitting in, following the current trends, doing what appears to work on the basis of current assumptions. No pragmatist ever took the opposite point of view from the majority. It’s an excess of pragmatism that helped bring us into the sad state we are in. Only idealism ever caused anyone to see what others are doing and decide, deliberately, to do something else.

Human beings are an odd mixture of exalted ideals, tremendous capacity for love and altruism, and an equally extensive ability to be mean, petty, selfish, and downright evil. Few are angels. Few are total devils. Most stand somewhere in between, sometimes leaning in the direction of better behavior, sometimes towards what is worse. We have the capability to create a more civilized, less destructive society, if that is what we want.

It’s so easy to complain privately, but go along with the status quo in public. We assume we are the only ones who dislike the way things are and want to change them.
We don’t use that capability enough, not because it is too weak to serve, but because we don’t have sufficient confidence in ourselves and our ability to change things. It’s so easy to complain privately, but go along with the status quo in public. We assume we are the only ones who dislike the way things are and want to change them. In reality, we are part of the vast majority of people: eager to see a better world, if only we had the courage to walk away from things as they are, and the vision to know what to put in their place.

We can do it. It doesn’t need riots, civil disobedience, or even fights with the boss. All it needs is to hold on to our ideals and try, every day, to put them into practice whenever and wherever we can. We don’t need some massive uprising by a few. We need millions upon millions of random acts of kindness and civility by innumerable people. The Grand Canyon was not cut out by a sudden cataclysm. It was cut away, fragment of rock by fragment of rock, by untold billions of gallons of water over millions of years. What needs changing in our organizations is far softer than rock and has been in place for less than a century. Imagine what could happen if it was systematically attacked by all those ordinary people, each one chipping away at at some part of the edifice.

Remember the power of random drops of water. Random acts of kindness and thoughtfulness can be just as powerful.
Don’t despair. You can make a difference, today and every day, even if each one seems tiny. Remember the power of random drops of water. Random acts of kindness and thoughtfulness can be just as powerful. So can taking a few moments out of the rat race to think and refresh your mind. We built our organizations the way they are. We can pull them down and build something better, even if it has to be one brick at a time.

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Anonymous said...

I think part of the problem with leadership today is that we tell everyone that they can be a leader to. It is almost like there is a "feel good" campaign that everyone is a leader. On one hand I can see how this is true--everyone leads in some respect. But on the other hand I think we make leadership to "easy" by saying everyone can do it. Since everyone can do it, all we have to do is pickup a book on the 21 Laws of Leadership and we are good to go right?

Obviously that isn't the case. Some people are just not going to be good leaders. They might be fine at coaching soccer or something like that, but they just don't have any true leadership skill. Even if you can teach them some skills, it is a little like teaching an eagle to run. Even if you can make the eagle a better runner, what have you really accomplished. It is probably just going to prevent them from reaching their true potential in other areas.


1:34 PM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Excellent point, Mark. I must think more about what you said.

Thanks for your comtribution.

4:52 PM  
Andy said...

It really comes down to enablement. At a social worker level you understand that enabling bad practices only leads to more bad practices. Unfortunately for whatever myriad reasons which all boil down to a certain type of weakness employees in these organizations will not stop enabling their peers behaviors thus closing the circuit and continuing the loop of bad leadership. If everyone walks away from a bad leader you find that most aren't really leaders, they just had enough good people enabling them that on their own they are pretty weak creatures.

As a person who stuck with a situation like this for many to many years I am glad to be saying that the light at the end of my tunnel is about here. I am so happy that in six months I should be free of my offices retarded behaviorisms and be one less person enabling the idiocracy that exists there. Building a new company that is built on healthy candor & open doors.

You have to take control and that is something most people are direly afraid of. (Nature v Nurture?) I keep preaching that the one thing we have in this world is choice, stop enacting it through inaction and walk forward of your own volition!


6:35 AM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Thanks for your comment, Andy.

I agree that people need to stop continuing the present cycle of poor leadership and conformism amongst followers. And I also think that you are right in saying that some people are very afraid of taking charge of their own lives.

That's why those who are willing to speak out and take a postion of leadership that way have a duty to do so.

Keep reading, my friend.

7:39 AM  
Pete Aldin said...

Carmen, your positivity is contagious. Having lived under absuive management for a decade and having learnt to define myself and my activity by my values only in the final two years of working there, I can personally vouch for the power of the individual taking a firm and quiet stand for morality, for empathy, for empowerment amidst the crap.

Maybe if more of us resist the grass-is-greener for longer while mounting a "non-violent" (lol)opposition to inhumanity in the workplace, the power of our "weakness" will become even more concentrated...

You're a great influence for this change.


5:35 PM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Thanks, Pete.

I've tried getting angry and attacking the jerks in my past. All that happened was that I made myself feel bad and increased my own stress. People like that are pretty impervious to direct assault.

So I decided to be myself and stick to what I believe, without making a fuss. They couldn't handle it! Now they felt bad, not me.

It works. I wish more people would try it.

Keep reading, my friend.

9:15 PM  
Robert Pearson said...

You are prescient.
Since you have been talking about the exact events that are now taking place, it is like you knew what was coming.

Yahoo could use your help.
What's your take on the Yahoo "Peanut Butter Manifesto" as a "working" document?

To me, it shows the lack of your coaching and a total unawareness of your philosophy.

Yahoo was once the daring of the Internet. I guess it was all technical. No people skills. Sort of like Enron. The worker bees all thought they were blazing a new tomorrow. They were right about that but way wrong on the payoff.

Trust is a funny thing. I now talk about "Trust but Verify".

In testing we use the "Doubt" approach. We do not want to believe in the system, we want to Trust the system.

12:53 AM  
Carmine Coyote said...

I have no foreknowledge of anything, I'm afraid. And I have little or no understanding of what Yahoo is up to.

However, if you think hard about the causes of something, it isn't too difficult to note what must almost certainly happen, given the basic laws of cause and effect.

You make an excellent point about the difference between belief (especially unconditional belief, of the kind demanded by fundamentalists of all kinds) and trust. Trust comes as a result of doubt and testing. It is also open to change, if new information comes in.

Belief tends to ignore the evidence in favor of how you want things to be—even if they aren't like that in reality.

That's why good science always starts from a position of doubt, demanding evidence to undermine that doubt: not belief, challenging any evidence that goes against its preconceptions.

Keep reading, my friend.

8:27 AM  

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