We promote and reward the wrong people!

photo credit: millicent_bystander via photo pin cc

We Americans like to think of ourselves as “rugged individualists.” The individual freedom we cherish fosters our enterprise and creativity.  In business management, we are seeing an unintended negative consequence of confusing out-for-myself behavior with individualism.Human beings are not meant to only be individuals and certainly are not meant to be loners.  The point of the democratic republic is to optimize individual liberties for most, not for a few elite.  It is human to connect and relate to others in a collaborative way and it seems, in this regard, some of us are more human than others.

Our business systems are organized to reward exceptional individuals.  Even those that purport to reward teamwork usually end up rewarding the team run by the most powerful individual getting the best short term results.  I happen to know from experience that great short term results can be obtained in business by accruing costs in someone else’s department, not addressing thorny issues with customers and getting a lot of unpaid work out of salaried employees who fear unemployment.  Those without conscience do well in this culture.

Twenty years ago, my argument might have been seen as sour grapes, unattainable by someone who couldn’t make it past middle management.  But since the recent banking crisis and other business scandals there are enough victims of antisocial business managers that my point is not generally disputed anymore.

People without empathy make life hell for those who have empathy, and people without empathy are promoted, rewarded and even held up as heroes in our society.  Those without conscience or empathy are promoted into positions where they get short term results, collect their bonuses and go off to their second homes while those who worked for them are laid off.

We blame this behavior on our selfish genetic nature and excuse lone wolf behavior that any actual wolf would be ashamed to exhibit.  Wolves are social creatures, and… ahem… so are humans.

John Donne; not John Wayne!

Science is now giving the lie to the dog eat dog (they really don’t) mystique and finding that natural selection actually favors collaboration rather than competition.  A study at the Yale School of Management showed that emotions are highly contagious in workgroups and that those groups with a positive emotional tone made better decisions and worked more productively together.

I recommend Lynn McTaggart’s book, The Bond, which cites study after study suggesting that cooperation is required for survival and that people are wired for connection, collaboration and fairness.  It is interesting and quite readable and it refutes the narcissistic one-up-man-ship promoted in U.S. businesses.

So if you, like me, often feel that you cannot keep up with politics in the world of big business, or success as it is portrayed in the media, you may just have something right with you.

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1 Response to “We promote and reward the wrong people!”


  1. 1 Praphai August 30, 2012 at 8:09 pm

    You are right on… just wish that your article will find its way to New York Times, Washington Post, etc.


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