Hero-villains have been around pop culture for a long, long time, proving that bad behavior can be powerfully fascinating.
Fictional characters, such as Darth Vader, echo to the restrained impulses and ethical thoughts & behavior of their spectators. Compared to the office world, it is easy to see how his torments are a representation of how dysfunctional a manager’s life may be. From a flamboyant, emotional & promising young individual, emerges a disillusioned, ice-cold, machine-like servant of a dictatorship. His life ends up “disrupted”; when the system he belongs to sees him obsolete and wants to replace him with a newer & potentially better “employee”.
Management & leadership are both needed at separate times & function differently. Objectivity & analysis are clearly managerial qualities while emotional & charismatic leadership may save or destroy an organization. Nevertheless, management has subtle, yet fundamental, undue consequences. Here are some.
The ideal manager is pragmatic. He rationalizes and thus brings any decision to a process. In fact, you can detect a typical managerial attitude by its systematic use of processes.
But rationalizing brings simplifications. And if you aren’t careful, you lose crucial details. Myopia & stereotyping are widespread manager’s flaws: Failing to see the whole territory, a manager looks at the map only and arranges it like a jigsaw puzzle. Motives get lost.
It is exactly what become companies when they are focusing on the bottom or top line too much. This managerial habit has increased over the last 30 years. Such rates of big corporations’ death, of failed mergers and of insider dealings come from prioritizing finance objectives (at individual or corporate level) over execution, innovation, & ethics.
Undeniably, this managerial fixation on numbers shifts further away governance & strategy from real-life marketing & production, like business leukemia.
The finance department originated as staff activities. Primarily built to support general management, finance management was created as equal & complementary to marketing & operations. It has now become almost automatic while eating away business thinking: budget restrictions is well-known to freeze management brainpower. A tool with partial vision cannot replace the brain.
Even though the ideal manager is emotionally bland, his rationality is an exaggerated psychological defense mechanism against fear & anarchy. He is generally risk averse & conservative as he fears losing control (but is sometimes risk seeking when he has lost it). Yet, risk is a potent & positive motivator in life as we can see it with entrepreneurs.
Reliability kills creativity as you need guts to take risks. No manager will be creative during his performance review to set riskier, yet more rewarding, goals. Managers hate surprises. Meeting expectations is a key source of credibility & self-esteem.
But the most potent fear a manager has is linked to his power. People love to joke about their bosses’ insecurity in their roles. But like their boss, most managers are afraid of treacherous actions coming from below. Consequently, the main objective for a manager is to control whoever evaluates him: his boss & related staff.
One positive aspect of reliability is that managerial organizations run smoothly. The downside is that troubleshooting becomes unlikely: challenging the norm becomes career-threatening. Preventive management is cast aside & unorthodox Cassandras are shunned. The IBM turnaround by Lou Gerstner in the 1990s is a typical correction of a corporation who turned too “managerial”.
Tolerance is forced upon managers because of their small span of feelings. They respond to roles, not people. Reconciling, compromising & balancing power are calculated.
Their lack of empathy is evidenced by the inability to handle strong emotions. Emotional communication is indirect & ambiguous. Exclusion & shunting into a siding are signals used instead of confrontation.
Still, employees cannot be emotional about every aspect of an organization. When people are indifferent, managers must use persuasion to change the way people value their motives. This creates the politics of compliance.
Organization improvement is to control behavior. Behavioral control is embedded in reassuring processes. Processes are finely crafted when members are educated in the calculation of interests.
Machiavelli understood it well: duplicity is not necessarily a manager’s character flaw but a necessity for survival. Manipulation looks to avoid conflicts. But manipulation breeds politics. So, managers shift from working on task to working on other people. When processes replace reality, politics become a game of defense.
Furthermore, the larger the business is, the more politics are involved. Indeed, independent power bases naturally grow and
offer differences in perception.
The thing that interests people in business is its impact. When leadership is weak, people turn to process & become devious. Therefore, to lead is to find ways to drive politics out of organizations. Management with its emphasis on process, structure & power over work is at the core of business’ weakness.
To keep emotions inside has a cost on the psyche. Long, repressed feelings tend to split managers’ personalities. Emotional balance is thought in after-work activities or canalized rationally at work. Managers secure themselves with process-oriented sessions, very similar to shamanistic rituals in the face of adversity.
The routine behind yearly seminars, strategy elaborations, budget preparations & reviews, risk sessions, performance reviews, & weekly meetings create a false sense of reinforcement.
Failing to meet the objectives, managers will most likely point that they respected the process.
Where leaders & managers depart:
As we can see above, managers’ flaws are coming from their own strengths. Such attitudes (whether good or bad) are deeply rooted in how managers envision life. Such vision clearly differentiates managers from leaders.
Managers see life as a long & stable progression with small blips. Evolution is a sustained activity. Even disruptive innovation becomes a process. Their lives center on security. Security & control are sought everywhere: at work, at home & within the community they adhere.
Managers do not confront themselves or have had little experience in doing so. Their motto is to adapt, whatever the cost. Thus, the defining forces are external to them and shape their inner world. Slowly, the social mask eats away the flesh underneath it. Their world may eventually come to a grinding halt or be disrupted.
The situation for leaders is different but not rosier.
On top of what their followers & environment force on them, leaders must know themselves. Introspection is the key. To lead, one must separate from his community & environment. Leaders’ motto is to give flesh to their convictions & shape their surroundings.
The aim of leadership is to ensure that the organization reaches success and that the followers help the authority figure.
This ability is generally learnt the hard way. Indeed, most of the time, a major rupture is imposed on leaders. Its impact is generally so strong that their identity melts temporarily like iron ore. A period of mourning for the loss of an idealized self can be long. However, introspection, like oxygen needed in the process of producing hardened steel, burns away the imposed social iron-mask and allows the emergence of a hardened & true identity.