Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Why asking, "Why do jerks succeed?" is the wrong question

I'm sure you've come across articles similar to this one, "Why Jerks Get Ahead."

Jerks may get ahead, and that leads to much hand wringing on why this happens and how everyone else should unleash his or her inner jerk to move up the ladder.

But "Why do jerks get ahead?" is the wrong question to ask. The question to ask is, "Will an organisation full of jerks getting ahead, get ahead?"

Monday, August 20, 2012

Why do women outlive men?

Yesterday, a friend asked me a brilliant question. Here's the issue he presented to me. He said that in marriages (certainly in earlier decades) men had control, and women held a subordinate position relative to their husbands. Further this subordination is mandated by several religions, and many women made "obedience" promises as part of their wedding vows..

In my book, I've quoted the Whitehall studies that  show mortality and health depend on your grade in the organization hierarchy. The higher up you are in the org chart, the better your health is. Higher grades mean higher levels of control, resulting in better health levels.

My friend's question was, how can we reconcile the Whitehall studies with the fact that women have a higher life expectancy than their husbands, given that women ostensibly have lower control than their husbands within marriage?

I'm guessing that there are two main reasons for this phenomenon:

1. Women traditionally "married up". They wanted a man who was more powerful than they were, in terms of wealth, income, status, education, ambition and so on. Further, they wanted men physically dominant, ie taller and stronger than themselves. Also, this imbalance of power was actually a source of comfort for the woman, as it provided a sense of security (I'm obviously making some broad and sweeping generalizations here).

2. The man was in the position of protector, in that he was primarily responsible for his wife and family's safety and security, including providing for them. It was in his self-interest to protect his family. That said, many men did abuse their wives, as the system was still that of a dictatorship. Nonetheless, this "dictatorship system" does not seem to have an overall negative effect on life expectancy of women (I am of course not talking of extreme cases of abuse that  resulted in women dying of grievous injuries).

In contrast, bosses are in no way responsible for your "safety" (in this case, job security). Your boss's main job is definitely not to care for you, or provide for you, or protect you. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

The future of healthcare: not your doctor, but the system

Dr Atul Gawande is one of my favourite writers. In his latest article, titled "Big Med", Dr Gawande draws parallels between the efficiency of restaurant chains such as the Cheesecake Factory , and the (in)efficiency of the US healthcare system.

Dr Gawande compares the two systems and says (page 10, para 7), "Patients won’t just look for the best specialist anymore; they’ll look for the best system."

While I don't mean to compare two different contexts, I've said something similar in my book about leadership: that leadership is a system, and we have to compare leadership systems, rather than the leaders themselves. Leaders are important, in the same way that individual doctors are important. There are bad leaders and good leaders, and good doctors and bad doctors. Nonetheless, these individual differences can pale in comparison to systemic differences.