No one tells them “No” anymore. Some do strange semantic compositions not to tell them what they really think. Some refuse to think for themselves anymore and just adhere to the system. It is what every royal court has, those group of people who always accompany the star-figures without showing any critical approach. And if the king is naked, they don’t dare to say it or they will try not to think about this fact… I am not talking about politics or academia, I am talking about some managing-position people that still, nowadays, leads by fear.
Usually people in managing positions are there for a reason, they have been successful either managing teams or executing specific projects, and they are usually talented. They usually had careers full of success and recognition. That’s the main reason why they should have a “humble-alarm” system around them. An alarm that should trigger when showing the first symptoms of arrogance, self-indulgence. An alarm that should trigger when no one contradicts them. An alarm that should trigger when they reach that comfortable spot (sometimes aimed for) that avoids hard-answers and uncomfortable situations. Sometimes, even if it’s hard to believe, the only thing contradicting these managers are the market and the clients.
And they blame the clients: “How is it possible that the clients are not buying my product and force me to modify my planification”?
This mix of respect, exaltation and servility is lethal for any organization. Paths can get twisted; altitude sickness exists and can blind people that have been successful. When in top-tier meetings no one is challenging new or old proposals, no one dares to say uncomfortable things and serious debates are substituted by choral liturgies the risk of weakening is huge. Good managers lead by protecting themselves from the atmosphere created by themselves. Having employees that know them personally and that know the company well is not a guarantee that they understand what’s going on beyond the boarders of their field. Good managers don’t isolate themselves on their royal courts. Experience is valid for lots of things, but it’s not a guarantee for being always right.
Some on their deification loose basic interhuman rules. They stop answering e-mails and calls, they change meetings and agendas at their convenience not caring about how this can affect their people. They forget about punctuality, good manners and empathy. They cross red-lines. They loose patience. Their royal courts hide their whims as good as they can.
Obviously not all companies and managers fall into these dynamics. In the last years, some companies have strengthened their hierarchies, some have made them completely flat. Some organizations have bet on cultures where respect allows openness. Respect and openness from top to bottom, and from bottom to the top. No one has the exclusiveness of truth, leadership and collective intelligence should and must coexist. You need to have around you talented people with critical views. You need people with their own ideas who can openly share them with a strong sense of commitment.
Consistent companies are not the sum of sleepless managers and royal corporate courts. Consistent companies gather a professional atmosphere more committed to a certain purpose than to an untouchable figure. Consistent companies have empowered teams, with enough autonomy to create a sense of responsibility on the whole company.
Peter Drucker advocated for every worker to be its own CEO. Jack Welch, leader of General Electric (1981-2001) said it in a more incisive way: “Managing less is managing better”. We get constantly amazed by how much people do when they are not told what to do by their managers. In our new knowledge-based economy, every person should make its own decision. Micro-managing, excessive control and bureaucracy kill the competitive spirit in any company.
Companies where few people think and most execute are obsolete. Consistent organizations are full of people that think with a critical perspective, and from that perspective, they can add a lot of value. If leadership means something is to understand how to advance without restricting critical thinking. Critical thinking also strengthens the purpose of organizations.
We do not need royal corporate courts that never say “no”. We need organizations with critical sense to improve and challenge disruptions. Our organizations need managers that, when they acknowledge that no one is questioning them, they question themselves.
(Este artículo fue publicado originalmente en castellano y catalán en La Vanguardia el pasado 9 de agosto, la traducción al inglés es de Joan Marcet Vila, a quién agradezco el esfuerzo).
La imagen es un fragmento de una obra de Hans Cranach.