Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The power to humiliate

With great power comes great responsibility, but it seems to me that some people (well, many people) seem to want to attain power not only to gain authority or make money, but also because it puts them in a position in which they can humiliate others.

Sally Bibb has written a superb article in the UK's Guardian newspaper about Alan Sugar's rude behaviour with contestants on the BBC TV show, The Apprentice. In the article, Sally says, "Those who cling on to that style of managment do so because it feeds their need for dominance and power, and, presumably, because they feel it brings them results."

I completely agree with Sally in that there is no need for Mr Sugar to behave as arrogantly as he does. Given his obvious success, one would hope that he play the role of a mentor, rather than a snarling, intimidating bulldog. I suspect that even if Mr Sugar is putting on an act, he's basing that act on a 'tough-guy' image that belongs, as Sally would say, to the stone age.

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Saturday, March 25, 2006

"Do I Dare Say Something?"

The Harvard Business School Working Knowledge site mentions a research paper that's concluded that people are too scared to talk at the workplace, because of bosses and hierarchies.

The research was done by HBS professor Amy Edmondson and her colleague, Professor James Detert from Penn State. In an interview, the professors say, "Perhaps most surprising to us has been the degree to which fear appears to be a feature of modern work life."

They also say, "Turning to the modern economy, most of us depend on hierarchical organizations and their agents (i.e., bosses) to meet many of our basic needs for economic support and human relationships. Thus, fear of offending those above us is both natural and widespread. "

The professors' research was titled "Latent Voice Episodes: The Situation-Specific Nature of Speaking up at Work." Basically, they were trying to figure out why people don't speak up at work, and found that it was because of fear.

I'm sure you knew that already. But thanks to the professors, we now know that 'officially'. Their research just confirms what I said in my manifesto, the emergent property at our workplace is fear.

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

The consequences of over-work

Sorry for disappearing for a while. I was travelling and forgot to say this in my previous blog.

Although not directly related to bosses, I saw this great article Be smarter at work, slack off. It has this gem of a quote:

"The physiological effects of tiredness are well-known. You can turn a smart person into an idiot just by overworking him," notes Peter Capelli, a professor of management at Wharton.

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Monday, March 06, 2006

Why good ideas are resisted

Here's a great line from Hugh Macleod's manifesto, How to be creative:


This is just so true, especially where bosses are concerned.

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Sunday, March 05, 2006

Monster's Toxic Boss Contest

Monster is running a 'Toxic Boss Contest' between February 27th and March 31st, and there are already 30 pages of responses.

What does this tell us? That people just seem to be waiting to for an opportunity to vent their frustrations about their bosses.

In some ways, it is extremely disappointing that the top people in the 'leadership' field - such as Tom Peters and Stephen Covey - completely ignore this crucial issue. All the things they talk about - such as wowing customers, being radically innovative and so on, cannot be possible under our current system which produces bad bosses.

As I've mentioned in my manifesto, 'leadership' is a sexy word. And we've been so well trained to not talk about bad bosses, that we prefer to ignore the issue altogether even though it gnaws away at people's insides.

The tragedy is that the people with the most influence in the leadership field don't talk about it either. Perhaps the reason is that almost everyone is told to have a 'tough it out' attitude, and even top people have been well trained from an early age to do this. Hence, they would rather talk about big things like leadership, than apparently wimpy things like bad bosses.

In fact, one person who read my manifesto told me that he almost didn't read it because of the title - he thought, "Oh, not another rant on bosses". He said that if the manifesto was on leadership, he would have read it without a second thought. I suspect he's not the only one with this attitude - that anything to do with bosses is a rant, and therefore useless.

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Thursday, March 02, 2006

Self-censorship, democracy style

Whatever your views on the rights and wrongs of the war on Iraq, one thing seems to be clear: people within the intelligence community (both the US and UK) had serious misgivings about the war and the aftermath.

Why didn't this information percolate upwards?

It's ironic, but today's Guardian newspaper carries two separate articles with quotes involving self-censorship - one in a dictatorship, the other in a democracy. I've already posted (prior to this one) the first quote, and here's the second:

"Wayne White, who coordinated Iraq intelligence for the state department until last year, said he helped put together a National Intelligence Estimate in 2003 warning that "prospects for tamping down the insurgency were unexpectedly grim". Mr White wrote that "the senior official chairing the meeting looked around at his fellow intelligence analysts and exclaimed rhetorically, 'How can I take this upstairs'?" to then-CIA director George Tenet. He argued the resistance to bad news in the White House led to the "temptation among subordinates within the intelligence community to engage in self-censorship". [emphasis mine]

The US is a free system. Why is self-censorship taking place? The answer is quite simply: the CIA organization system is that of a dictatorship, with the usual bosses and hierarchies.

If a head of state wants accurate information, the system that he's getting information from must be a free system. Otherwise, he will only be told what he wants to hear.

It should be the job of an organization like the CIA to provide the head of state with accurate information. Once they provide that information to the head of state, it's up to that person do do what he wants with it, even perhaps ignore it.

But the problem with a dictatorship system at the workplace is that it actively prevents accurate information from travelling upwards. The results, as we've seen in the shuttle disasters, and now the Iraq war, can be disastrous.

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Self censorship, dictatorship style

There's this article in Britain's Guardian newspaper, about Belarus, "an authoritarian, often forgotten corner of Europe."

Pulled out a couple of quotes about Belarus - how different is it from our workplaces?

"Self-censorship is the strongest weapon." [emphasis mine]
"Sack three people and 100,000 are scared."

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Great quote

Organizations and leaders who want to achieve great things need to really understand this:

"Freedom is actually a bigger game than power. Power is about what you can control. Freedom is about what you can unleash."

- Harriet Rubin

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