Monday, July 31, 2020

Leaving a Wake Behind

In his book Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality, Dr. Henry Cloud suggests everyone leaves a wake behind them as they move through the lives of other people, much like a boat leaving a wake in the water. He then asks the question: “What does that wake look like?”

Organizations leave an even bigger wake in people’s lives: in the lives of employees, customers, suppliers, and competitors. Every action they take leaves some mark on other people, for good or ill. It greatly behooves managers at every level to look back over the stern of their organizational vessel from time to time and ask, “What kind of a wake are we leaving behind us?” That wake—that impact on other people’s lives—is the legacy of the organization: the way it will be perceived and remembered in its community or the world at large.

What kind of wake are today’s organizations leaving behind them as they dash ahead, intent on short-term profits and quick returns for shareholders, pushing their way through their environment by a combination of rigid focus, high velocity, fierce determination, and brute force?

Wake size is partly determined by the size of the vessel, so a huge supertanker will create a much larger wake than a small motor yacht. And the faster a boat moves through the water, the larger and more turbulent its wake. Watch a fast motor boat careening along at 30 or 40 knots and you’ll see a great bow wave in front and a long, turbulent and frothy wake stretching out behind.

How large is your organization? How fast does it try to travel? How much care do those in charge take to consider how the wake they are making affects others around them? Sending a large, high-speed vessel through a mass of small yachts will produce a wake large enough to buffet the yachts badly, quite likely damaging or sinking some of them. A supertanker at full speed will throw up enough wake to be a hazard to quite large vessels, if it comes too close to them. And in inland waterways, like rivers or canals, any boat traveling too fast will produce a wake strong enough to undermine and damage the banks.

If we want to produce civilized organizations that enhance the life of those who come into contact with them, we must think hard about the wake they are producing and who will be affected by it. Slowing down reduces the amount of the wake we leave behind. So does avoiding the flashy twists and turns so beloved of weekend sailors in over-powered motor boats. Even the largest vessel can minimize its wake if it slides calmly and evenly through the water. And what about the kind of wake you and your organization are making? The impact groups and individuals have on the world can be benign as well as harmful. People like Mother Teresa or Nelson Mandela have left long and powerful wakes, but ones that brought hope and joy instead of turbulence and suffering.

No organization can avoid leaving some wake behind it, any more than a ship can avoid leaving a wake on the surface of the sea. So the question remains, “What does that wake look like?” How many people will you and your organization affect as you pass through their lives? Will you leave a mark behind for good or for ill? How turbulent will your wake be, how potentially damaging to all those people and their well-being? If you demand a style of working that produces continual stress and anxiety, damages families and relationships, and subordinates the whole of life to the company’s short-term goals, this will be your legacy: an ongoing story of harm, misery, and servitude for many in the name of financial gain for a few.

Is that how your organization wishes to be remembered? Is that how you wish to leave your mark on this world? Think about it. There may still be time to slow down and change or lessen the wake you are making.

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Friday, July 28, 2020

Thoughts About Competition

Dealing with competition is a problem for many organizations. In a free market, competition is inevitable, and people will always compete with one another for a better place in the sun. Yet today’s macho, bottom-line obsessed organizations are riddled with competition of the most destructive kinds: the ones that turn colleagues and departments against one another, and make “beating the other guy” more important than serving the customer or building a way of working that will provide lasting benefits to everyone involved.

The natural world maybe provides some pointers on how to cope with this problematic side of competition. Nature manages to stay relatively stable over thousands or even millions of years, and produce an amazing diversity of species, by mixing and collaboration in precise ways.

At the simplest level, there is always competition between individuals of the same species: for food, for places to live, for mates, and for survival. It must be this way, because each individual in the species is looking for identical “rewards” from the environment; rewards that are always in short supply. Exactly the same level of all-out internal competition is produced when organization set individuals to compete for more-or-less identical rewards, whether in terms of bonuses, pay increases, promotion opportunities, or anything else. The evil of performance appraisals is not just their hopelessly vague and subjective nature, it is also the way they are used to set up open competition for limited shares in a “pot” of money. Besides, if people know that a poor rating makes them vulnerable in the next round of staff reductions, and ratings are fixed to set proportions along pre-set scales, they are competing for survival, not just reward.

Competition of this type is war to the death. It is the ultimate zero-sum game, since for me to survive, win and grab as big a share of the limited rewards as possible, you (and probably several other people) have to lose. You cannot expect people to compete “nicely” under such circumstances.

Competition in the Market

The fiercest competition in the market comes where several organization compete for the same niche. It is exactly like several different species trying to establish themselves in the same niche in the environment. Only one can win—or two at most, with one dominant and the other barely clinging on for survival.

Nature avoids this as much as possible, since it results in rapid extinctions. Where it happens in the natural world today, it is nearly always Man’s doing: introducing alien species, by chance or design, into an environment they should not be in. Take House Sparrows in North America, or rats and house cats in pristine Pacific islands. The new, more aggressive species drive out the ones that ought to be there.

Where niches overlap, there is still competition, but it is less intense. In the part of Arizona where I live, bobcats and mountain lions live in roughly the same environments in the mountains. But their niches overlap only partially. Bobcats eat quail, rabbits, rats and mice, while the lions prey mostly on deer and javelina. The result is that both species can thrive, so long as food does not become too scarce, forcing them to grab whatever they can. Organizations in overlapping niches also compete to a limited extent, leaving open possibilities for either ignoring one another, or even developing collaborative ventures.

For individuals too, if the areas where they must compete are limited, space is made for collaboration. Well-managed organization generally ensure that competition for rewards is limited and partial, so restraining the kind of cut-throat, political infighting that less well-managed organizations experience.

Diversity and Co-operation

To return to Nature, how is it that so many species can live in a small area without discord? I’ll use birds as an example, since I know most about them.

There are many species of warblers in North America. All are small, active birds that eat bugs. But if you consider their habitats, some species feed mostly on the ground, some in low bushes and scrub, some at the middle level of trees, and some high in the canopy. A few species live only in the west; more live mostly in the east and central parts of the continent. When they migrate south in winter, some go only as far as Mexico, others right down into the Amazon basin, or even further. Each has its own niche, so they do not compete for the same resources and can all flourish independently.

There are also many examples in the natural world of species that cooperate, like birds that pick parasites off large mammals, or coyotes following badgers around to snap up creatures disturbed by the badger’s digging.

The way to limit destructive competition in and between organizations, without affecting competitiveness in the outside world, is to follow Nature and provide for as many different niches as possible. This means encouraging diversity, not just in the obvious ways, but also diversity of aims, goals, interests, and skills. While it may seem tempting to make everyone focus on the same goals and rewards, the result will be a sharp increase in internal competition. That’s why the most rigid and formalized organizations and groupings (academics, for example) are often the most violently competitive. They are all in open conflict for identical niches. The smaller the niche (say in an obscure discipline), the fiercer will be the fighting.

Today’s conflicts around the world are also mostly driven by groups of people fighting over a single, limited niche, whether of land or influence. Human beings are part of Nature, so generally comply with natural ways of behaving, unless they allow their minds to step in and find a better way. In organizations, as in the world at large, our species has the unique ability to move away from purely instinctive behaviors, changing our responses and modifying our environments to produce a better way of living. It’s sad how infrequently we do it.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2020

Why Respect is Vital for Leaders

I’ve written several posts about trust as one of the foundations of Slow Leadership. Trust, of course, demands respect. I don’t mean simply that people should respect their leaders—as leaders and would-be leaders are often keen to tell us. That’s important, of course, because no one willingly follows a leader whom they don’t respect. But what is far more vital is that leaders should show unfailing respect for all those they deal with, whether as colleagues, subordinates, customers, or merely working contacts.

Like trust, respect for others begins as an assumption—a gift—that other people are worthy of respect, at least until they prove otherwise by their own actions. By respecting people, however humble their position, you also acknowledge their human potential: the in-built ability everyone has to grow, learn, and improve themselves, given the opportunity. And by acknowledging this potential, you naturally come to consider how you can best allow the people to work for you to make best use of whatever talents they have available, and to develop more.

An approach like this creates a feeling of purpose and meaning in the workplace. Whatever the product or service being offered to customers, a major part of the reason people have for coming to work is the way it allows them to use their abilities, and find meaning in life through growing as a person. Wherever there is a sense of meaning, people use that activity to give of their best and show to themselves, as much or more than they show to others, what they can do and what they are worth in the world.

Finally, when those in charge fully respect everyone, it is natural for them to recognize the contributions others make. I don’t mean simply financial recognition (though that is pretty important). I mean that people are noticed and praised for their contributions. I’ve never met a person who truly didn’t want to be noticed or have their work and achievements recognized. Like many people, I volunteer for part of my time. Why do people volunteer? Because they believe in what they are volunteering for, they welcome the opportunity to do something with meaning, and (despite any claims of modesty) they like to be noticed and recognized for what they do. If you want your employees to work with the same enthusiasm as volunteers, try offering them the same trio of “rewards.”

Now compare the Cycle of Respect with its opposite: the Cycle of Contempt, a set of attitudes sadly common in all too many businesses today.

It begins with an in-built disdain for anyone not as successful, clever, able, or hard working as you think you are. Since this makes successful high-fliers see the remainder of the workforce as inadequate, it’s not surprising they fail even to consider what potential those people might have, or what additional contributions they might offer, given the chance. The result is a self-fulfilling prophecy: other people’s abilities are blocked, therefore they can’t prove themselves, therefore they are “proved” to be limited in capability. Other people are damned as useless without the superior types noticing the reason is more likely to be lack of opportunity than anything else.

With a culture of contempt for underlings, the workplace become a dull, prison-like space where people labor at work they don’t believe in and do only for the money at the end of the week. There is no meaning or sense of purpose. Subordinates know their bosses despise them, so they respond with equal contempt directed at their leaders. It is a case of people blind to the abilities of others leading those who are just as blind to the capabilities of the folk in charge. What a place to work!

This mutual contempt breeds management attitudes and judgments based on cynicism and stereotyping, which then reinforces initial feelings of disdain, creating a feedback loop of contempt, buttressed by visible examples of mutual dislike, pessimism, negativity, and egotistical self-congratulation: “Thank God I am not as that other person down there.”

Despite all the PR-oriented blather about organizations seeing people as their greatest asset—a statement that has become as meaningless and untrue as “we put the customer first”—until leaders commit themselves to the Cycle of Respect, we will continue to find organizations where contempt by those higher up the ladder for everyone else below is the order of the day.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2020


A few days ago, I did a post on the need to slow down for the sake of your customers. Now, via Management Issues, I discover The Observer, a UK newspaper, running this article about some of the ways companies treat their customers with little or no respect, all in the cause of turning an additional quick buck.

Here’s a representative quote:
Despite what they say — and often even think — many, perhaps most, companies are surreptitiously at war with their customers. Through nuisance games, dirty tricks and small print they take everyopportunity to extract more from your wallet for no extra service. . . . Trivial stuff, you might think. But the consequences of this subterranean struggle are momentous. We don't trust our service suppliers and are increasingly willing to drop them at the drop of a hat. Despite huge amounts spent on aids like customer relations management software, customer satisfaction levels are low and falling, and so is the esteem in which business is held. On the company side, that translates into more effort (to replace lost customers) for lower growth.
Take a look at the complete article. Here’s the key point:
The culprit . . . is the profit-based system most companies use to manage performance. Managers are judged and often rewarded on their profit figures. But financial measures make no distinction between how profits are earned. Are they the result of creating new value from customer relationships ('good profits' from increasing loyalty), or were they earned by appropriating value from them ('bad profits')?

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Monday, July 24, 2020

The Nature of Trust

Trust has a fourfold nature. First, trust involves obligations. Your people need to be able to trust you to look out for them; to stand up for their interests and do all you can to help them survive and prosper. But you knew that, didn’t you? Great leaders have an unswerving loyalty to those who follow them. It’s so much an essential of real leadership, it’s hard to imagine anyone can suppose they can be a leader and treat their people with anything less than total devotion. Perhaps the best definition of a dictator is someone who demands complete loyalty from others, but gives none in return.

Secondly, trust is impossible without integrity. You cannot trust any organization or person who acts dishonestly or operates from a hidden agenda. One openly dishonest act is sufficient to destroy trust for an extended period. One deliberate lie ruins anyone’s standing as a person worthy of trust. One piece of misinformation or “spin” does the same for an organization. Lies and dishonesty are totally incompatible with trustworthiness.

The third element is openness. It is not impossible to trust someone who is secretive, but it takes much more faith to do so. Secrecy always implies that whatever is hidden has been concealed for a purpose; a purpose that may itself not be honest or acceptable, else why would it be hidden in the first place?

The fourth and last part of the nature of trust is keeping your promises. People who do not do what they say they will do are not trustworthy. Making a promise should be seen as an obligation that must never be broken willingly; never broken for any reason save the most grave and unavoidable of situations.

I don’t believe you can practice genuine leadership without a fundamental commitment to trust. Slow Leadership should, I think, go even further and demand no less than everything you have to give: trust, loyalty, openness, and a firm belief in the essential goodness of humanity. In return, it will offer you something no amount of money can buy—the lifelong love, admiration, and loyalty of those who have the privilege of working for you.

(This post is an excerpt from my new book, Slow Leadership: How to Make Your
Workplace Civilized
, which is to be published this Fall. © Copyright Adrian W. Savage, 2006. All rights reserved.)

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Friday, July 21, 2020

Economics and Achievement

I turn now to urge a more discriminating scrutiny of what is considered the greatest achievement of the twentieth century: economic success. . . . William Shakespeare lived in a country with a very low gross Domestic Product. Paris in the years of the Impressionists was appreciably less affluent than it is now. So, also, was the world that gave us Charles Darwin, and no one since has so challenged embodied belief. It is clear that success that is measured by economic output bears no close relationship to human achievement.

— John Kenneth Galbraith, The Unfinished Business of the Century, Lecture at the London School of Economics, 1999.

The most economically successful countries in the world do not always—or even typically—produce the greatest minds and the most creative artists. The wealthiest individuals are neither the cleverest, the most creative, or the nicest people to spend time with. Career success does not guarantee happiness. We all know this. So why do people sacrifice their leisure, their health, their ability to be creative, and their relationships purely in order to earn more money?

Slow Leadership’s definition of a civilized workplace is one that provides a good place to be, as well as a satisfactory income to support the rest of life. This means building organizations that can survive and prosper indefinitely, while giving everyone connected with them opportunities to live well, to feel a genuine sense of purpose, and to enjoy their association with colleagues and customers. Flexibility and inclusiveness are essential too, since different people hold different values and one person’s definition of an enjoyable working life may not be quite the same as another’s.

For individuals, neither wealth, nor status, nor recognition are guarantees of happiness or enjoyment of life. Living a good life demands a balance between having enough wealth to afford the lifestyle you prefer and enough free time, peace of mind, health, and energy to enjoy it. There is little benefit in being richer if you have no time to enjoy your riches and feel constantly anxious about losing them.

For organizations, there is a similar balance between sufficient short-term profitability to avoid cash flow problems, and a long-term outlook that focuses on using those profits to promote the purpose for which the organization exists. The true goal of any organization is to survive and prosper for long as its purpose remains a worthwhile one. Short-term profits bought at the expense of long-term benefits are symptoms of foolishness. Growth, in itself, is no guarantee of survival or prosperity. There are many examples of organizations that have outgrown their ability to operate successfully, and either collapsed or been split into several more successful offshoots.

All this can best be accomplished by slowing down, leaving time and space for people to enjoy what they do, moving to a longer-term definition of success, and redressing the balance between thinking and action. Today’s organizations are obsessed with constant action and almost entirely short-term in outlook. Thinking is carelessly equated with impracticality and theorizing; reflection is dismissed as doing nothing. Yet thinking can yield results that last for centuries and affect the lives of millions—consider the great philosophers and people such as Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein—while action itself is over and gone in a little while, often leaving no trace. Without time spent in reflection there can be no learning, and organizations today need to learn as never before.

This brings us back to balance. Thinking without acting on those thoughts has little relevance to creating a sound organization or a good life. Action without sufficient thought, or action based solely on rules of thumb (which is what happens in most organizations today), is foolhardy and inflexible. The faster you rush, the less time you have for anything save instant responses. The more you concentrate on the short term, the more you miss or ignore what might provide for long-term prosperity.

Wealth is no guarantee of a good life or a civilized community, nor is constant industry proof of either individual or corporate virtue. Amassing money for its own sake provides no meaning for what you do. Corporate growth is not an end in itself, any more than growing taller is the appropriate goal for a child. To provide meaning and fulfillment, life needs a purpose that you can believe in with your whole heart. Organizations can surely help to provide such a sense of purpose, but only if their goals too go far beyond merely making a return for shareholders and fat salaries for the executives in charge. Only misers find pleasure in in a purposeless accumulation of money. For the rest of us, wealth is merely a means to an end, and if that end is sordid and petty, that is what our lives will be also.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2020

Slow Down and Play to Your Strengths

One of the commonest mistakes leaders make is to focus on countering what they believe the competition will do. This hands the initiative to competitors and ensures that nearly all activities will be reactive. As a way of managing an organization it looks efficient—people are running in every direction to ward off competitive incursions into market share or customer loyalty—but, in reality, most of the busyness comes from trying frantically to catch up with changes that were only partially anticipated, if at all. A far better way is to slow down and take time to work out what truly needs to be done, shifting your focus away from what competitors and the marketplace might do, and on to deciding instead what you can do next to improve your business.

Trying to second guess the opposition is a mug’s game. You are unlikely to get it right, so most time and effort goes into reacting to events or catching up. Meanwhile, your competitors are setting the rules of the game, probably in ways that put you at a disadvantage. In place of capitalizing on your business strengths, you are forced to try to react to theirs.

Apple computers has been a perfect example of doing what they could do to build business, not trying to chase after the competition, which has long been overwhelming enough in terms of market share to make Apple seem a hopeless investment. Apple didn’t try to compete on price, nor on special offers or discounts. By focusing entirely on what it does best—producing revolutionary products based on outstanding design and innovation—and more or less ignoring the competition’s desired grounds for a contest, they have survived and prospered.

When you focus on what you can do best, you force your competitors to react to you: to play the contest on ground of your choosing, not theirs. By thinking farther ahead, you take them off balance, since the most likely area for their focus will be the short-term. You spot the coming trend and are ready. They miss it (they weren’t looking far enough ahead) and now have to react to you, with insufficient time to think properly or plan a response.

The victory does not always go to the big battalions. History is full of instances where a smaller, more cunning and less predictable adversary has completely overthrown some huge, lumbering force intent on dealing with what its leaders assumed their opponent would do.

The keys to managing in this way are courage (to stand your ground and refuse to be drawn onto theirs), focus (to give your people the time they need and ignore temptations to divert to deal with short-term pressures), patience (to take the long-term view and wait for the right moment to spring your surprises), and thoughtfulness (to avoid what may seem to be quick-fix answers and obvious responses, in favor of staying with your true strengths and goals). The best leaders are not always the obvious types, full of lust for action. Often quiet, thoughtful, and reflective leaders have surprised everyone by winning with much less effort and far more flair.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2020

A Reminder to Vote for the Slow Leadership Manifesto at

I mentioned before that Slow Leadership has submitted a proposal to ChangeThis, a site that publishes 15-20 page PDF “manifestos” on topics of interest to people who think about their world. To be able to publish a manifesto on ChangeThis, you must first submit a proposal. Visitors to the site then have the opportunity to vote on the manifestos they would most like to see written. Those with the highest number of votes are the ones chosen for publication.

If you would like to see that site publish a manifesto on Slow Leadership and its ideals, please use this link to go to the site and vote for us. That’s the only way to make sure the manifesto is published.

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Monday, July 17, 2020

Slow Down For Your Customers' Sakes Too

These posts have concentrated on the negative effects that excessive haste and pressure have on the people who work within an organization. What about the customers, clients, pupils, or whoever else that organization exists to serve? Do they also suffer when an obsessive concern for quick results and numerical/financial measures becomes the driving force of policy and action? I believe they do, as the chart above shows.

Naturally, no one wants to be kept waiting with no good reason. A sluggish response to customers or clients won’t build positive business relationships. But going too fast is just as bad—or maybe even worse. Few responses irritate the people you deal with more than the feeling that you aren’t listening carefully to their concerns or needs—especially if they also suspect that they’re either being thrown some standard response and then ignored, or being given a quick fix to keep them quiet.

It’s a fallacy that responding quickly naturally increases customer satisfaction. What people want from you is your full attention to their needs and concerns. Everyone feels better when they know that they are getting someone else’s undivided attention. Doing that takes time. You cannot give the other person your attention for twenty, thirty, or sixty seconds and assume that will be enough. Slowing down is essential to provide excellent customer service. Clients usually measure the quality of the service they have received by the amount of time that the manager or customer service agent spent listening to their concerns, asking relevant questions, and explaining the organization’s response.

Even the value of that response is likely to be judged, in part, by the time and care taken to prepare it. A quick response, even if it is accurate, often feels off-the-cuff and not properly considered. One that has taken longer to prepare starts with the advantage that the customer probably feels you have taken time and care to craft it properly. It still needs to work, but it starts with an initial bonus.

I used to have a very senior colleague who had a fetish for promising every client an instant response, based on his rooted belief that speed showed eagerness and zeal to help them. Not only did his promises cause chaos in the office, as people rushed around in a panic trying to make good on his impossible promises, the quality of the work that could be made ready in such a short time was often inferior.

It wasn’t even as if the client had requested such speed in responding. Mostly, as I discovered on several occasions as I tried to explain that we couldn’t meet the deadlines set, they were surprised and even a little suspicious at what had been offered them. “We don’t need anything that quickly,” some would say to me, “but that’s what your colleague offered.” Others said, “To be honest, your speed was impressive, but when we got what had been prepared, we were a little disappointed.” Of course, some potential clients felt that the fast response that wasn’t quite right suggested our company didn’t meet the standards they required. Those were the ones who simply went to one of our competitors. We lost a considerable amount of business this way, but no one could ever convince the guilty party his approach was doing it.

Slowing down enough to listen and give customers your full attention is virtually guaranteed to produce a significant improvement in the way they feel about you and your operation. And if the way your organization operates denies you this opportunity, that tells you something about the value the business places on its customer base. Maybe you would be better off looking for a place where the links between excessive haste, quick fixes, short-term attitudes, and poor customer satisfaction are better understood.

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Friday, July 14, 2020

The Brute Force Approach to Productivity

Although today’s world is increasingly dependent on technology, the most prevalent approach to dealing with competitive pressure is based more on brute force. Organizations do not so much seek clever or technologically-advanced ways to produce more at lower cost as rely on old-fashioned hard work and long hours. By cutting staffing and forcing those who remain to work more to make up, they increase productivity in the simplest way possible.

In time, this method of driving up collective productivity at the expense of work/life balance must produce diminishing returns. There are only so many hours any person can work, even if you ignore the effects on health, quality of output, and job satisfaction. What do organizations do then? Even after it becomes obvious that little additional productivity is available by further cuts in staffing and extensions of the typical working week, the brute force approach is not quite finished.

The First Variation

If no extra saving can be found through employing fewer people, they must be found elsewhere. Yet the approach organizations take usually remains focused on simple expedients, rather than significant changes in operation. Salaries are not the only costs associated with employment, so we are seeing increasing moves to reduce or eliminate fully-funded pensions, the cost of health care, and any other benefits that can be removed or restricted.

Cutting benefits naturally works best in industries and companies that used to be among the more generous, where rates were established long ago when good benefit schemes were seen as necessary for recruitment, or where union power was once strong enough to force employers to share more of their profits. Since employees resist benefits cuts, it only works where people can be persuaded the likely alternative is collapse and wholesale job losses, or where the bankruptcy courts allow employers to impose a form of “restructuring” that leaves such undesirable financial obligations behind. The U.S. airline industry led the way in cutting salaries and benefits for current employees. It has now been followed by a range of other corporations, many of them household names, looking to increase productivity and profits by stepping smartly away from past moments of unavoidable generosity.

The Second Stage

Not every corporation has benefits it can cut in this way. To reduce the cost of employment as a way of becoming more competitive, such businesses need a different approach. Since management orthodoxy is largely wedded to the brute force doctrine, the most common method is yet another variation on the same old theme of cutting financial outlay while seeking to extend working hours and output.

This time the answer comes from finding people willing to do the same work for less money, following the simple expedient of shifting the work overseas to lower-wage economies. As long as countries exist where there is a suitably educated and skilled workforce, combined with lower rates of pay and fewer costly benefits, this approach works well for the organization. Never mind the people at home who lose their jobs as a result, or the effect on the home country’s balance of payments. Modern technology makes the process easily possible and it saves costs and boosts profits. It must be good.

Extreme Options

Even outsourcing work on a large scale will one day reach the same problem of diminishing returns. Besides, it cannot work in industries such as utilities. While routine operations, such as so-called customer care, can be relocated to computer centers in India or elsewhere, the bulk of operations are more or less fixed in place. You cannot easily relocate a generating plant or a telephone network overseas, or tell customers to go to Mumbai to fill up on gas.

That is probably why these industries have appeared at the forefront of cases of creative accounting and other types of financial mismanagement. Denied the more obvious ways of using brute force to improve their quarterly figures, some stepped over the line of legality and began manipulating the figures themselves.

A Malignant Duo: Speed and Risk Avoidance

The obvious question is why corporations do not seek genuine productivity increases: those that come from working smarter, making better use of technology, or using human creativity to find better ways to compete. After all, these approaches to productivity have no obvious limits. Who knows what entirely new ways of doing things might become commonplace in ten, twenty, or fifty years?

Of course, organizations do seek such innovations, but less actively and with far lower levels of urgency. The culprits in the widespread crime of mugging employees for profit are those old criminals, speed and risk avoidance.

Though genuine productivity improvements occur all the time, they are not predictable, nor do they happen in a moment. A radically new way of operating may take time to work out and turn into an approach that runs smoothly and without hiccups. A new product line or business strategy can take years to make its way from concept to reliable profitability. What corporations want is a way to boost the next quarter's figures, not an approach that may produce far greater profits, but only in the long-term future. Since "long term" is typically defined as any time more than three or four years hence, the majority of truly innovative ways to increase productivity and competitiveness will fall into that category.

Innovation also carries risk. Many new ideas fail to work or provide the sales and profits their supporters claim at the outset. There is abundant evidence that creativity is impossible without accepting many failures along the way—failures that cost money and compromise the credibility of important people. Corporations, large and small, are by nature risk averse. They cling to the notion that it is somehow possible to invest and compete without taking on significant risks at the same time.

Need, Not Greed

It's tempting to attribute the excesses of today's corporate leaders to simple greed. While that has proved to be true in some cases, it cannot account for such a widespread attachment to brute force as the sole means of increasing productivity and profits.

What we are seeing is a generation of executives who spent their formative years in organizations where genuine productivity increases were fairly easily found through applying techniques we now take for granted: computerization, mechanization, and improved ways of organizing. It seemed so easy then that top managers and shareholders (who are, of course, mostly financial institutions) became addicted to the steady upward march of profits; and, like addicts the world over, believed their state of euphoria would last for ever.

As we reached the first signs of diminishing returns from the technological discoveries of the period between roughly 1950 and 1980, those same addicted shareholders and financial institutions refused to face “cold turkey” and return to less rapid, but more normal, rates of return. If anything, their demands increased, fueled in large part by the speculative bubbles of the 1990s. Even today, they are still dreaming of easy money and continuous double-figure rates of return on their investments.

Executives have to satisfy investors in some way, if only because it has become the fashion to tie their own salaries and job security to short-term increases in share price and profits. Hence the blind reliance on brute force: It’s the only quick, simple and previously surefire way to drive up shareholder returns and executive salaries at the same time.

As mothers have said to their children for uncounted generations, all this excitement and frenzy will be bound to end in tears. The only sustainable way to produce higher productivity is through innovation and invention. The only civilized way to use such gains is to increase wealth for everyone while keeping working hours and individual effort at the same level or, preferably, lowering them. Let us all hope that the tears, when they come, are neither too bad nor too lengthy, and that we can return to a civilized reliance on human creativity for our increases in productivity before too long.

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Thursday, July 13, 2020

Is a Change Coming?

Management Issues web site reports the results of a survey that suggests even corporate high fliers are becoming sickened with today’s unbalanced attitudes to work.

According to a survey of 1,311 executives, conducted in the United States, Europe and Asia-Pacific by the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC):
  • More than half (53 per cent) report that they do not have a satisfactory work-life balance.

  • 46 per cent believe their work-life balance had changed for the worse over the past five years.

  • Six out of 10 say technologies such as the BlackBerry and mobile phone are further eroding the boundaries between work and personal life.

So far, so predictable. What is more interesting is that 56 per cent of those questioned said that they would strongly consider refusing a promotion if it negatively affected their work-life balance, and almost nine out of 10 said that work-life balance considerations are critical in their decision whether to join, or remain with, an employer.

Are the worms at last beginning to turn?

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Wednesday, July 12, 2020

What's Your Doctrine?

In the military sphere, the word “doctrine” has a specific meaning: It describes the accepted way of handing military assets in warfare. For example, “carrier doctrine” means the way that naval commanders are expected to use and deploy aircraft carriers; “tank doctrine” means the accepted way to use tanks in battle. There are several reasons why the military use this concept. One is predictability: If all commanders adhere to doctrine, everyone knows how they will operate, so each commander can coordinate actions with the rest. It also saves time. The commanding general can issue orders, for example to send carriers north to intercept the enemy, without specifying all the attendant details, since these are contained in the current doctrine.

Of course, there are drawbacks as well. The enemy can learn your doctrine and become able to anticipate—and frustrate—what you are likely to do. But the strongest danger in adhering to doctrine is lack of flexibility. Times change and so do the tactics of the enemy. It’s often argued that generals always fight the last campaign, not the current one. Part of the reason for this is the use of doctrine to determine actions. Like all sets of rules or guidelines, it can only be based on the past: usually on reproducing what worked well last time and avoiding the most recent set of mistakes.

At the individual level, sticking with doctrine offers safety from criticism. If a commander departs from accepted doctrine, he or she is running a considerable risk. If the battle is won, there will still be those who will dismiss the success as luck, and point to the risks taken in operating outside accepted approaches. If a battle waged with tactics outside current doctrine is lost, there’s little chance the commander will escape censure. Doctrine therefore tends to work against taking risks, even where logic might show they are fully justified.

I’m explaining this concept in depth because it works in much the same way in non-military organizations. The difference is mainly in the formality of the doctrine. Corporations don’t set down such formal doctrines for use of their assets in, say, marketing or customer service. The correct ways to do things are more broadly implied in procedures and policies, though these rarely go so far as to specify exactly how managers should act in conducting a marketing campaign, or dealing with a customer complaint. Instead they tend to contain generalizations and broad statements of direction.

Nonetheless, organizations hold to doctrines, however informally expressed, and woe betide the manager who gets into a mess while departing from what senior managers see as “the right way to do things.” Once again, speed, the ability to omit detail in instructions, and predictability are the driving forces behind the use of these informal doctrines. And, once again, widespread use of informal doctrines by an organization produces a culture that is more rigid and risk-averse; a culture that focuses on doing what worked in the past, not what might reasonably be thought to be better for the future.

Haste and busyness produce the strongest tendencies to rely on doctrine. In the armed forces, part of the reasoning behind training everyone in current doctrine is precisely the need to be able to react swiftly and firmly in known ways despite the chaos of battle conditions. By indoctrinating subordinates in approved ways of thinking and acting, military leaders can ensure everyone follows instructions, even when no direct supervision is possible.

Many organizational leaders secretly enjoy the fantasy that they are commanders on some field of corporate battle. The truth is different. Business is not warfare. It does not have the same pressures, demands, or dangers. Organizational time scales are longer, most deadlines are self-chosen, not imposed by an advancing enemy, and no one’s life is threatened. There’s little real need therefore to constrain everyone into a single way of doing things, and good reasons for encouraging innovation and risk-taking.

Haste, addiction to busyness, and an authoritarian approach to leadership are endemic flaws in much of today’s organizational leadership. Each encourages the use of doctrine for controlling people’s minds and actions. Each produces risk-averse, rigid, and highly predictable approaches to business. Doctrine may not be named as such. It might be called “knowing how things work around here,” or “industry best practice,” but the process is the same: Subordinates are indoctrinated in approved ways of thinking and acting and constrained to stay within them, virtually regardless of prevailing circumstances, their own expert judgment, or the appropriateness of the doctrine in the light of unexpected changes. Where doctrine is most strongly held, individual leaders may not even allow themselves to register that external events no longer match their expectations and assumptions.

In a time of increasing competition from countries that never before posed any threat to business as usual, and continuing technological changes that sometimes revolutionize the nature of commercial threats overnight, it’s hard to see why organizations are not rushing to find newer, more flexible, and innovative ways of operating. But then, don’t organizational generals, as well as the real ones, nearly always fight old battles, not the ones now facing them?

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Monday, July 10, 2020

Time, Decisions and Action

The essence of Slow Leadership is the trinity of foresight, patience and decisiveness. The reason is simple: Time is the lifeblood of decisions and action. Without sufficient time, decisions must be based on guesswork or habitual assumptions. Actions either become reflexes or are made too late to change the outcome. In all today’s emphasis on decisiveness and decision methodologies, this simple fact is typically overlooked.

In the diagram above, Point A represents the earliest time in advance of some event when you can become aware of it and the choices it demands. If you make up you mind at this point and move into action, your decision is almost bound to be premature: too much time remains for circumstances to change, making your hastly choice into a poor one.

Point B is the optimum decision time. It is as close as is practical to point C, which is the point after which nothing you can do will change the outcome. By making your final decision and moving into action at point B, you still have enough “wiggle room” to make last-minute adjustments, or even abort altogether if you realize something critical has occurred.

Point C is the point of no return. Any action taken after this will be too late to change anything.

Point D represents having missed the boat. Whatever decision is made now will have no practical effect. Whatever is going to happen will do so.

Why Snap Decisions are Bad News

Todays’ emphasis on short-term viewpoints and snap decisions usually produces the worst of all situations. By focusing on the short term, it is unlikely that you will even become fully aware of the impending event before Point B, or even Point C, so there is no time to do anything other than react as swiftly as possible. Snap decisions must be based on guesswork or habitual ways of doing things: the time has already passed when you could have explored, planned or considered fresh options. As Point C rushes towards you, it’s now or never.

If you are indecisive at this time—or you have to clear your action with the boss, consult others, or coordinate with groups whose attention is currently elsewhere—the chances increase that you will be past Point C and well towards Point D before any action can become effective. It’s already too late. Whatever you manage to do now will not affect the outcome and you will be left to clear up the mess feeling frustrated and angry.


Not only is this kind of short-term, reactive management hopelessly wasteful and inefficient, it is also extremely stressful. You are forced from crisis to crisis, never having the time to do more that grab for the nearest answer and pray that you will still be in time. I don’t say people do this deliberately—though a few seem to have a kind of macho bravado that causes them to choose dicing with death as their preferred mode of operation. What puts the majority of harassed, frustrated managers into this trap is either (a) the tendency of their superiors to demand that all decisions are referred upwards, delaying action until the last moment since the superior is either over-stretched, indecisive, or working on a different time scale; or (b) being caught in a Catch-22, where there is never enough time to look ahead and anticipate problems, because you are always putting out the fires from the last mess caused by lack of time for anything other than a snap decision.

The Trinity of Decision Needs

The first is time. As I said at the start, time is essential to any sound judgment. Without enough time, you will always be in a rush, unable to think clearly enough or collect and analyze the information you need. Haste and short-term viewpoints take away most of that time. Slowing down helps by giving more opportunity to think and consider the options. The more time you can use before finalizing your choice the better. Rash choices and premature actions are very often regretted.

The second is foresight: it’s how you buy the time you need. By constantly scanning the far horizon, you can obtain a warning early enough to have time to think and consider. Looking to the long term isn’t about making predictions, crystal gazing or indulging in blue-skies thinking. It’s the solid, practical business of reconnaissance: making sure you aren’t caught napping or forced into hasty decisions because you weren’t aware in sufficient time.

Patience is the third ingredient in the trinity: the patience to use the time between Points A and B correctly. Waiting is hard sometimes. You’ll need to restrain any tendency to jump to conclusions or rush into a decision. You will be tempted to “get a jump on events” or set things in motion early, so you can transfer your focus elsewhere. Neither is sensible. Use the time to plan, consider alternatives, and have second, or third, or fourth thoughts. Above all, keep waiting and watching events, so you can shift direction if they change. Committing to action at Point B still leaves time for absolutely last-second alterations, if something happens before the point of no return is reached.

Slowing down and looking ahead may seem tentative compared with the methods of the Action Man School of Management. You will sometimes be criticized for being too slow and cautious. You may face laughter and ridicule. You shouldn’t care. Getting it right matters more. When the high-speed, short-term, “grab ‘n go” manager has crashed and burned, you’ll still be one piece, able to show the results that he or she frittered away.

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Friday, July 07, 2020

Economics, Choice and the Future

Choice is a constant theme of Slow Leadership. It’s so easy to stumble into the future, eyes wide shut, repeating the conventions of past and present and missing the opportunities open to us to make our future different—and better—from what has gone before.

Until today, mankind’s steady increase in wealth—very unevenly distributed, to be sure, but still real—has been accompanied by an equally steady increase in constraints. We assume prehistoric man was free to make virtually all his or her choices, but lived at a scarce subsistence level, in continual danger of starvation and harm from wild animals and aggressive neighbors. By medieval times, poverty was less miserable, but constraints were present in full force: unquestioning obedience to some petty noble and, through him, to the king; swift and violent punishment for misdeeds; total subjection to the rules of the church. The industrial revolution brought a significant increase in wealth, yet many of the daily constraints remained, no longer to the church and nobility, but to the factory owner and overseer. Work was hard, hours were long, pay was small, and benefits minimal. The factory owner no longer commanded obedience by threat of execution, but striking factory workers quickly found he had the full majesty of the law on his side.

Today, in the industrialized world, our wealth is far beyond the dreams of our ancestors. Are we more free from constraints? I don’t see it. People work long hours, still fear the arbitrary loss of their employment, and are expected to obey corporate procedures no less rigid for being written in less personally commanding terms than in the past. Work and the economic needs of shareholders and executives still rank higher than the needs of the individual employee for time off, relaxation, and a working environment free from undue stress and the consequent threats to mental or physical health.

The future is our choice. We can continue to trade freedom for wealth; we can hand over the freedom, only to find the desired wealth is no longer available; or we can decide that wealth is good, but wealth with freedom is still better. As long ago as 1971, J.K. Galbraith explained the dilemma in typically blunt terms:
The quality of life will also suffer if individuals are not an end in themselves but an instrument of some purpose that is not their own. This too is a danger of our situation. We have developed an economic system of great power, We have reason to be grateful for its achievements. But it has its purposes and it seeks naturally to accommodate people and society to these purposes. If economic goals are preoccupying, we will accept the accommodation of society to the needs of the great corporations and the supporting apparatus of the state. We will regret our surrender but we will reconcile ourselves to the inevitable. If we have economic goals in proper perspective, we will question the desirability of such subordination.
It can hardly be claimed, 35 years later, that we have economic goals in proper perspective. Thank goodness some few, at least, are questioning the continued desirability of putting economics first and people a distant second.

There is still time to slow down, take a deep breath, and ask ourselves whether the direction we are headed is the one we want to follow. Every day makes this choice seem harder and following the status quo seem more obvious. If we don’t call a halt soon, it is possible we never will.

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Thursday, July 06, 2020

Take a Break

Chris Bailey at The Academy of Soulful Work has a post called “Take A Break Or Break Down” that is well worth reading. Chris says:
At issue is the fact that most American corporations, consulting and law firms, and even non-profit organizations practice a modern type of indentured servitude. And most of us American employees just settle for it thinking this is the only way to make a better living.
Trading time off (and sometimes sanity too) for wealth is something many people do without thinking about the choice they just made. Of course organizations will lap this up. Can you blame them? Instead of wasting time and energy blaming employers for accepting free gifts of labor, why not sit down and ask yourself why the **** you’re handing them out, and whether it’s worth it?

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Wednesday, July 05, 2020

Independence Day

At various points in my career, exasperated bosses said to me, “This is not a democracy.” Of course, their main purpose was to try to drive some sense into my head and stop me questioning so many decisions by senior people. What they did was to make me ask, usually inside my head this time, why not? What if some of the ideals of democracy were applied to organizations? On public radio this July 4th morning, the presenters read the whole of the Declaration of Independence to celebrate the 230th birthday of the United States of America. That set me thinking again. What if we applied the thinking of this much-admired document, drawn up by Thomas Jefferson, to the way people organize business today?

By “holding these truths to be self-evident,” the Declaration of Independence opens with a bold refusal to argue over niceties or split philosophical hairs. Conventional leaders often attack people with new ideas by declaring them idealists, full of impractical theories. But from the start, the Declaration of Independence is one of the most idealistic statements imaginable, full of the fervor of people refusing to accept old, dictatorial ways, long justified by convention and precedent. Any organization built on the thoughts of the Founding Fathers could not help but be innovative, radical and determined to sweep away tired arguments for staying with the status quo. If the leaders of the United States in 1776 had been of similar mind to many of today’s CEOs, no revolution would ever have taken place. It would have been judged too rash, idealistic and impractical.

What truths then should today’s organizations hold to be self-evident? What ideals should they proclaim, in place of so much craven appealing to the unholy triad of precedent, pragmatism and assumed practicality? No revolution has ever been ignited by a demand for pragmatism. No organization has stirred the enthusiasm and commitment of its employees by listing precedents and appealing to their loyalty to convention.

What about starting with the assertion that “all men are created equal?” Today, of course, we must add all women too, though Thomas Jefferson may have been using the word “man” to mean “mankind” as was common in his day. If all are created equal and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,” discrimination cannot be tolerated—neither on the basis of race, gender, age, sexual orientation nor any other grounds that deny the equality of human beings. The spirit of these stirring words could well be extended to outlaw elitism and a comforting belief in favoring “the right kind of people” or “those who are like us.” Many organizations waste human talent on a grand scale because those in charge act like the kings and nobles of the past: they divide others into those they automatically assume have ability and potential, and those they assume do not and never will have.

If all are created equal, all have potential, though some may currently make better use of it than others do. In my imaginary democratic organization, it would be the job of those in positions of authority to find, develop and encourage the potential in every employee. No more setting some on a fast track and ignoring the rest. The aristocracies of the past may have use birth as the sole criterion for automatic advancement, while today’s organizations use attendance at the right schools and playing the right political games, but the results are much the same.

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness
What of the “unalienable rights” to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?” No one is put to death by a cabal of top executives (well . . . not literally . . . yet), but I would argue that people are deprived of much of the right to life when dictatorial decisions are handed down that destroy their livelihoods. It cannot be argued that no one should ever lose their job; some countries have come close to legislating that and found extremely negative results. But surely no one should be deprived of their livelihood—or even of their pleasure in their work—for trivial reasons or without due process? If people have a right to life, no one must be permitted to diminish that right without being called to account to justify their actions. Instead of lay-offs being the instant response when profits fall, leaders should first have to show that action is not only justifiable, but clearly preferable to the available alternatives. People might still lose their jobs, but they would at least be assured it was not done purely to boost their bosses’ share options.

Liberty, so revered in American national consciousness, sometimes seems to be a dirty word in organizations. Many employees have no choice even over detailed aspects of their work, and no say in decisions, great or small, that may affect them closely. Their only freedom is to leave if they don’t like the way the organization is run. Traditionalists fear that giving wider freedom, better information and input to corporate decisions would undermine management authority, cause delays, make the business less effective, and ultimately lessen profits. The British aristocrats in 1776 said just about the same thing regarding the complaints of the people living in their American possessions. In organizations, liberty does not need to be license or anarchy, any more than it does in a state. People who freely accept rules and laws honor them more closely that those who must be forced into compliance. In his draft of the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson wrote that “governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Why should organizations be held to a lesser standard?

As for “the pursuit of happiness,” if organizations accepted this as a self-evident right for their employees, we should no longer need to concern ourselves with questions of work/life balance. Work is—or should be—a major source of happiness and satisfaction, if it is handled properly and kept in balance with the rest of life. Time to relax, pursue other interests and spend quality time with friends and family are surely rights. Workaholics, in an ideal democratic organization, would be gently rebuked and sent home to recall their duties to their families and their health, while each person would be free to follow their own version of happiness, limited only by boundaries and obligations designed to further the happiness of all.

Visionary Leadership
In 1776, I am sure many people—not just the British parliament and King George the Third—said the new republic of the United States was based on a hopelessly impractical, utopian vision, and would never survive the rigors of the “real world.” They were wrong then, as many who say the same of the importance of ideals and values in leadership are wrong today. What logic is there in honoring an idealistic notion such as democracy in political life and rejecting similar values as the basis for organizing the workplace? Conventional organizations are not democracies in fact or in spirit. When I consider the absolute, dictatorial, and hierarchical nature of the typical command-and-control bureaucracy, I feel sure King George would have approved.

I’ll leave you with a part of the Declaration of Independence that is rarely quoted. It reads:
That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends [the unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness], it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

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Monday, July 03, 2020

Controlling Competition

Sport and competition go together: It's difficult to imagine a game that does not include competition. Competition and business go together too, so it's not surprising many analogies are drawn between sporting achievement and business success. Yet the comparison fails because work and business are not games. What happens when competition is wrongly used and the workplace becomes more like a gladiatorial arena than a community of people working towards common goals?

Most sports have rules to govern and limit competition. Business has rules to increase it because competition is seen as a powerful way to lower costs and ensure a wide availability of goods and services. This may be true of economic competitiveness, but I'm thinking about internal competition between colleagues in the same business, or between departments and divisions—competition treated by leaders as the most obvious way to motivate people through providing competitive opportunities for achievement and recognition.

Let’s think more carefully about how much competition is healthy in the workplace, and how to restrain it from getting out of hand and undermining cooperation and motivation.

The essential difference between sporting competition and many of the competitive ideas that pervade the business world is choice. No one is forced to play a sport; players choose freely to compete. More importantly, they choose the level of competition they feel comfortable with. Not every tennis player expects or desires to play at Wimbledon or in the US Open. Given freedom to decide, players typically match the level of competition they enter with their skill and motivation. Many are content to play as “duffers” with their friends, some may strive to play in local or even regional tournaments, and some work to achieve the sport’s highest honors. At every level, the element of competition is always present, but the player is in control of its intensity.

Being in control of the challenge allows competition to be fun. If you're truly keen, you can try to become a world champion. If you’re less willing to give your all to the sport, you can settle somwhere lower down. Great champions are admired, but more lowly players suffer no loss of face for limiting their ambition to what they can handle.

Compare this with much of the business world. Many organizations establish highly competitive structures for salaries, promotions, even keeping your job. The organization sets the standards the “competitors” must meet to win, sometimes setting them at some impossibly elevated level based on the aspirations and fantasies of the CEO, not the actual abilities of the staff. This competition is definitely not voluntary. Failure doesn't see you dropped to a lower league more suited to your talent. It gets you branded a loser with a big dent in your future job prospects, or even ejected more or less publicly from the organization. In such an environment, competition is forced on everyone. People have no control over its intensity or frequency, like circus animals being prodded to jump through a series of hoops for the amusement of the audience.

When competition is forced, it's no longer fun or motivating, especially if the level is set well above where a person feels confident of competing. Instead of the pleasure of being a competitor who feels he or she has a chance of winning, you are reduced to someone whose main desire is to avoid being humiliated. Being overmatched does nothing to increase motivation or skill.

Besides, in what other circumstances are adults deprived of control over major aspects of their daily lives? If they are judged mentally incompetent? If they are in jail? People usually associate lack of choice with early childhood, when the child is too immature to grasp what really matters, or with extreme infirmity or age, when faculties diminish too much to allow for rational decision making. The essence of being an adult is to be able to handle decisions relating to your own life. Some may argue that no one has to take a job in a highly competitive culture. I would counter that it’s becoming hard to find a culture that isn’t, because such extreme internal competition benefits the organization and its shareholders at the direct expense of the people who work there. Competition is assumed to be motivating, even when it clearly is not.

Maybe it's time that leaders thought about competition in more humane terms and worked to create environments that bring the fun element of competition into the workplace, not the harsher side. It’s the leader’s job to monitor and control competition internally, generating the right level to stimulate each person without overmatching them and crushing their spirit. That’s the way to bring out the best in people, especially if competition is directed towards each person competing with themselves and their own past achievements. No one can cooperate easily with colleagues who are turned into rivals in some all-out race for rewards, recognition and job security.

Understanding the right level of competition for each person is another essential leadership job that takes time: time to get to know each person’s abilities and degree of drive to do better; time to encourage and stimulate them to take the risk of competing by providing enough support to keep the process enjoyable and exciting. Extreme competitions are won only by obsessively competitive people. A business full of them would most resemble a pool full of hungry sharks, eying one another to see who is next on the menu. It that any way to organize a civilized workplace?

Here is Bertrand Russell, philosopher, mathematician and Nobel prize winner, writing in 1930:
Competition considered as the main thing in life is too grim, too tenacious, too much a matter of taut muscles and intent will, to make a possible basis of life for more than one or two generations at most. After that length of time it must produce nervous fatigue, various phenomena of escape, a pursuit of pleasures as tense and as difficult as work (since relaxing has become impossible), and in the end a disappearance of the stock through sterility. It is not only work that is poisoned by the philosophy of competition; leisure is poisoned just as much. The kind of leisure which is quiet and restoring to the nerves comes to be felt boring. There is bound to be a continual acceleration of which the natural termination would be drugs and collapse. The cure for this lies in admitting the part of sane and quiet enjoyment in a balanced ideal of life.

[This is an extended version of a post that appears today on]

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