Archive for July, 2015

Chains of Command

chains are joined together by a padlock. isolated on white.

What are you required to do to earn your paycheck?  If you work in the typical organization, you may be taking orders to which you did not agree.

Sure, you agreed to perform your duties, support your manager and team to accomplish given objectives.  There are hours you must work, behaviors required on the job.  You have priorities, strategies and tactics.  This is all straightforward and usually explicit.

There are probably also unofficial agreements for getting along, such as:  Don’t swear around that VP.  You may notice cultural norms such as:   Don’t share personal information.  Often, someone has tipped you off about these rules.

You may also encounter unofficial rules which are largely unspoken and unacknowledged.  These are the ones which should concern you.  Such rules are usually designed to control more of your behavior than your work-for-money agreement would have you believe.  They may be silly or sinister, define your problem solving style, whose opinions you can support, whether you can make friends at work, and who those friends should be.

In a healthy culture, such rules are few and benign.  But, in many organizations fear and uncertainty surround these off-the-books rules.  Often the rules enforce a pecking order;  who gets to be an insider, who is an outsider.  They can also severely limit the available options for solving problems and being productive, through fear or through favoring the aggressive rather than the competent.

Those in service to a psychopathic leader or culture find themselves going along more and more with such inappropriate control and experiencing more and more fear about failing to comply.  The source of the prescribed behavior may be the manager or the coworker mob.  The punishment for not complying is subtle but painful.  This is how bullying cultures reinforce abusive behavior.

You know it’s wrong to thwart Smith’s attempts to do her job, but you also know the boss doesn’t like Smith and doesn’t want you to like her, so you can get away with hindering Smith in her work.  You rationalize that you are too busy to get Smith information she requested.  You tell yourself that Smith is probably a bad employee and that’s why the boss treats her badly.  When she speaks in meetings, you discredit her ideas.  When Smith cracks under pressure, everyone pities her weakness and claims to have had no malice toward her whatsoever.

These are the chains of command, the inappropriate control, which seems to exist in most if not all organizations.  You may be unconscious of it or you may think this is just the way it is.   Once acknowledged, it can look frighteningly like a police state, especially in an economy with a huger-than-ever disparity between the haves and have nots.

Take a new look at Smith this week.  Is she really weak?  Question whether she really has a performance problem.  After all, her boss should be dealing privately with such issues.   If you have the bandwidth, you may give some thought to whether Smith has been made ineffective by all the blocks and diversions of coworkers.

It can be scary to consider that you have been coerced into being one of the bullying mob.  It might be easier to consider being secretly and subversively kind to Smith.  Quietly get her the information she needs.  Refuse to roll your eyes when she speaks in a staff meeting.  If she cracks under pressure, don’t say a darn thing!

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