The way that people lead and manage is a function of the economic system in which they serve. Years ago (1961), David Granick illustrated this ever so skilfully in his book the Red Executive.
Of course, the present “capitalism-on-steroids ” develops a certain brand of leaders as well. Leaders and managers do some pretty awful things to get to the top, and to stay there. As consultant Robin Cook points out in his comments to this post, this is due in part to the ‘instant gratification’ culture (served by)management…most decision making has been short term (and is) based on tomorrow’s stock price &/or next quarter’s earnings statement”.
First, I shall provide a few examples of managerial behaviours which serve the system -after which we will have a look at what all this means for OD practitioners in our practical consulting work.
- They say contradictory things to different audiences. Not just different emphasis! Different things altogether.
- They promise things that cannot be done, and then, slowly decommit, or recommit to yet another unachievable set of goals.
- They allocate blame ensuring that very little “sticks” to them.
- They please certain powerful stakeholders to the detriment of others.
- They set deadlines and apply pressure that endanger people’s mental health.
- They pay as little as possible to get as much as possible, especially in labour intensive industries.
- They scheme to crush organized labour.
These activities are practised not only by poisonous and “loser” managers, but also by very good and effective managers. Yes, management is a real-world activity-with a bright side and a darker side. A very dark side.
So what does this mean for OD and the people who train managers? Well, I’ll tell you what it has meant for me in my 45 years of practice with some pretty senior people. I always talk about things as they are-discussing all the possibilities and the trade offs.
- “Yes, you can fire the present R&D manager to take the blame for the delay-but let’s examine what that means for your positioning with the team, who knows you force fed these crazy deadlines.”
- “The re-org you are proposing will buy time, but the shit will hit the fan anyway. If you take appropriate corrective action now, you know what you are facing. If you delay action by a bogus re-org, you will deal with the devil you don’t know.”
- I avoid discussing the role of the leader as do most OD people, ie as a super hero and passionate visionary who walks on water, inspiring people by dint of his (or hers, or its) personality, charisma or whatever. Leadership and management just do not work like that. Sugar-coating the art of management ruins your credibility.