Courage to refuse the adversarial voice

As most managers will tell you, the hard part is the people. Policy and processes are matters of analysis and intelligence, and can be taught. But getting the people to be what the organization needs — managers who’ve spent time in a trench will tell you this is tougher. Which is why I say that the best leaders are the courageous communicators.

Sure, there are lots of managers who’ve made their way up the ladder in companies where you just need to be smart, articulate, hard-working, loyal, and passionate. All good traits, but you can be all these things and be a horrid manager – and a bad person.

It’s not enough to have a large vocabulary and a sense of syntax, not enough to be poised in front of an audience. Witty doesn’t help. It’s not even enough to see the essence of a matter through confusion and have the skill to say it clearly.

You can have all these tools and use them as weapons. You can be all these things and end up in the history books as just one of those dictators who finally hangs from a lamppost in the town square. Leaders need to be smart, articulate, and perceptive through confusion — but then need to use those tools with the right kind of courage.

We need, first, the courage to say something when saying nothing will get by. Then, when we do say something (and paint a red target on our forehead) we need the courage to resist lapsing, under fire, into our own adversarial voice. These two, together, make a jewel of a leader.

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Signs of the Dilettante

Dilettante:  a dabbler, an amateur who does not realize he is an amateur.  

Typically, he is learned in one discipline and, in his self image, he illegitimately transfers prestige to another discipline.  (So, the more expert you are in one field the more susceptible you are to being a dilettante in another. )   He knows enough to be dangerous.   He sees others’ fields close but not from the inside, just close enough to see 100% of the form but only a fraction of the substance. 

One mark of the dilettante is the confusion of form with substance

The dilettante overvalues intent.

Gender in the Workspace

I’m generalizing.

Managers need to understand that women need more physical space than men do.  Especially for jobs that do not anchor the worker to one spot on the floor, but require her to move about.

It’s the invisible bubble of personal space we’re talking about, of course.   I’m not saying the female bubble is bigger — rather, the membrane around the female bubble is much less permeable.   Women don’t tolerate other people in their space as much as men.   I should say, men don’t care as much.

But it isn’t that.   It’s the reflection of that;  women hate to get in other people’s space.   This actually troubles them as much as the converse.   Hence, the constant apologies and kow-towing (sorry, ladies, this is how it looks from the male perspective.)

You men….haven’t you been puzzled by walking down a hall at work, and a female co-worker steps aside with an “I’m sorry” which actually slightly irritated you, because you wouldn’t have been bothered if she had just blown past you?

That’s the difference I’m talking about.  (Women also tend to concede at 4 way stop intersections.)

Whether we oppress this onto them or they come out of the womb like this is not my concern.  It’s just a practical observation:

Male managers who have the responsibility for a floorplan need to check it with females in a mock-up of the actual space before you ok the plan.   Especially if the architect is male.

Corporate Entropies

What is distinctly human is most delicate, and so is the first to disappear when decadence sets in.   So the person always deteriorates first into a machine, which is simply a thing that will function by logic without the intervention of mind.    So also, groups of people deteriorate, first, into a bureaucracy, which is just what an organization looks like in machine form.    And most groups of people embrace this decadence intentionally.

You can guarantee a result by building a machine.   Bureaucratic features in an organization are usually the result of attempts to elevate outcomes by standardizing procedures.  If you’ve been any kind of manager, you know how necessary this feels as you try to cope with the idiocy of lazy workers.  You must — must! — build your logic into the organization in such a way that nobody can mess up the result.  You need a machine.   This is an understandable impulse, but dangerous.   Make sure you give the workers who want to remain human a pathway  to subvert your own machine.

Most laziness in a service company is not in the form of a reluctance to work.  It is, rather, in the form of a reluctance to treat customers like humans, because everything is easy compared to an I-Thou moment.  The hardest part of life is to be human with humans.   The lazy people on the front lines of your company will actually LOVE to work, when work is all the impersonal processes that constitute their jobs.   But when they have to step outside the machine to make an encounter truly human, that takes more energy in 5 minutes than the previous 7 hours 55 minutes took.

So “lazy” is actually the accurate term for “hiding behind policy and procedure”.