Fear-based management is dead! Long live compassionate leadership
Updated: Sep 26, 2019
So, why are there still so many horrible bosses out in the corporate world? My guess is there are several explanations. In the olden days, when companies still offered a comfortable retirement after a certain length of employment, it was easier for managers to lead through fear. The employee wasn't just risking his paycheck by disagreeing or dissenting, he/she was risking all of the time spent at the job - to start over in a different job would be to hit "reset" on the retirement button. That's not something anyone would do lightly, even in the face of a horrible boss. Even in today's world, I have friends who work for the government staring that same dilemma in the face. Do they throw away 12 or 19 or 28 years worth of work towards a comfortable retirement just because their current boss is a monster?
However, times have changed. Corporate-funded retirements are mostly only found in governmental agencies or in union jobs. Everyone else has to look forward to funding their retirement (if they ever get there) by themselves. Even employer matches on 401ks are down - the burden has almost completely shifted back onto the worker. That being the case, it is far easier to make the decision to "abandon ship" if you find yourself working for a horrible leader. All you are risking is your current job, not your future.
So, why are there still so many horrible bosses out in the corporate world? My guess is there are several explanations:
1: Many of today's leaders were trained by leaders who were from the ancient time when they could do so. The TV show Mad Men doesn't just show gender behavior that we find abhorrent today, it also showcases old-style management. Employees who worked for that type of leader are still in the workforce, and are often in management roles.
2: We still haven't solved the problem with promotion - all too often, promotions are given to the best "doer", or the employee who is the best at their job. On its face, this seems like a great way to go, but the reality is something different. Just because someone is good at doing a thing (even the world's best at doing that thing) does not mean they have any talent, capacity or even desire to lead others who do that thing. And, if given a rational alternative, I think many of those "doers" would choose not to become a supervisor or manager. But our organizational systems are set up such that there is no lateral career progression - only up. So, in order to get more money, status or perks, a good employee must take a "higher" position. Sometimes this works, but very often it fails miserably. The promoted hates the new responsibility and being torn from the "doing" portion of the job, the promoter is dumbfounded as to how this superstar has done so poorly in this new role, and the employees are just plain miserable under an ineffective manager.
3: Studies have shown that there is a small correlation between traits of successful people and sociopaths. In an organization that hasn't thought through the "second and third order effects*", someone with no regard for others can rapidly rise through the ranks through sheer efficiency - hitting the quarterly numbers no matter the cost, churning through employees to keep burnout (and raises) low, etc.
Those are my thoughts for now - more on this and other subjects later.
* second and third order effects (or consequences) are basically defined as what happens when something happens, and then what happens when what happens when something happens happens. Or, essentially, outcomes that occur because of a decision you made, but are different from the intended (and usually achieved) outcome. An example:
A company decides to enter a new market. A supplier is found, the product enters the market is a success, turns great profits and share price goes up (desired outcome). However, due to lack of vetting, it turns out that the vendor uses child labor and the company is sanctioned and the share price flattens out or goes down slightly (second order effect). After publication of the sanction in the media, customers decide to boycott not just the new product, but all products from the company, causing a large annual drop in revenue and massive share price drop (third order effect).