A Guide to Dysfunctional Management and the Evil Workplace
May 15th, 2014 by William

The Neck of Every Bottle Is At the Top

“He’d strangle you with his own halo and then put it back on as if nothing happened.”

I can’t find who authored this quote but it’s always been one of my favorites−perfectly describes some of the narcissistic, sociopathic bosses I’ve worked for in my career. These are the kind of management types that when settled in at the top of an organization are truly the key to whether the organization will become dysfunctional, or not. As Peter Drucker once said, “Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done.”

In his April 30, 2014 LinkedIn article, “Nothing Fixes a Bad Manager,” Jim Clifton talks about the biggest problem facing most organizations: bad management. Or, more appropriately, the leadership void. As Clifton tells us, “Companies seem to try everything imaginable to fix their workplaces, except the only thing that matters: Naming the right person manager. Leaders go to seminars, hire consultants, and employ a long list of interventions−competencies, 360s, and so forth. I don’t think any of them work. What’s worse, nobody really cares that they don’t work.”

While you might think the question is: why don’t these fads work, it is also: why do companies have to engage those fads in the first place? Stated another way: Why do the sociopaths always rise to the top?

The answer to why management needs to embrace the fads is because, at some level, they do recognize that they need help however, they don’t believe that they are necessarily the problem. Once sociopaths become entrenched in an organization they embrace these fad solutions because dysfunctional leadership is incapable of the introspection required to change on their own. Of course, when I say embrace I really mean “give lip service.” And lip service is the answer to the first question: why don’t the fads work? The answer to the last question lies in the fact that the underlying philosophy of modern management/leadership is flawed and not consistent with the path our culture is taking.

Management of most all modern day organizations remains stuck in the 20th century mentality of top-down, “command and control,” position-based authority. Command and control is based on establishing and maintaining power over, and control of, people and organizational processes. Business history has left us with a legacy of workplace patriarchy and hierarchy, based on the superiority of those in charge. The consequence of this is that we all have been brainwashed into believing that “to manage” means we need to be completely in control and dominant. All the fad leadership literature pays lip service to the notion that people and relationships are important, and that leaders can be created by following some simple steps. However, contrary to this, our society believes that the real work of managers is with quantitative data, money, and bottom line performance−and of course the bottom line must be met at all costs.

Another myth that has grown up in managerial circles is what’s called the “divine rights of managers.” Management assumes that it has certain prerogatives and obligations that are intrinsic and that are, in a sense, the reward for having worked oneself up into management. This theory of leadership is owed to Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher of the 19th century. Nietzsche distinguishes between two types of morality: the “master morality” and the “slave morality.” The first is applicable to the leaders of society (and business), who create their own values for themselves. The “slave morality” is applicable to the herd−the rest of us working fools. Interestingly Nietzsche perceived that the “herd” sees the behavior of the masters as evil. Note: I’ve made that case before in blog posts and in the subtitle of my book, Puttin’ Cologne on the Rickshaw – A Guide to Dysfunctional Management and the Evil Workplace Environments They Create. Despite that, according to Nietzsche, the Masters stand “beyond good and evil” and are subject to their own principles, different from the norms of the herd. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

The social structure of today’s society feeds this problem in emphasizing achievement at work over social status outside of work−people are defined by their careers. Hence we must rely on earned position, title and visible status symbols like corner offices, reserved parking spots, etc. Given this it is not surprising that once one has been promoted into a managerial position one wants to use one’s authority−to act like a boss. Anyone reaching the top rung of the corporate ladder should take heed from Peter F. Drucker who pointed out, “Rank does not confer privilege or give power. It imposes responsibility.”

The pyramid organizational hierarchy and the competition-based methods that must be used to work one’s way up the “ladder” creates the sense of status, and the higher level managers thus are expected to act in a way commensurate with that status, i.e., in a more controlling manner to express that status. The emperor must act like an emperor despite not wearing any clothes. In other words, the power that is earned or achieved through the individual competition necessary to get to the top corrupts those who attain that power.

Our collective problem is that we live in a society that does not provide a way, outside of work, for the individual to achieve an alternate source of status. Being a good parent or upstanding citizen isn’t enough. We must strive for that next position up the corporate ladder so that we can feel like we’ve accomplished something in life.

Within the work context we have the further problem that our jobs and daily tasks, i.e., our “results,” are always given priority over personal relationships with others in the workplace. In many respects no one cares how well we get along with others thus we automatically pay more attention to whatever are the demands of our job even if that forces us to sacrifice relationships. Teamwork is really just a practical necessity, not an intrinsically desirable condition. If teamwork were more natural, “team building exercises” would not be a popular topic in the corporate lexicon. Within the workplace environment, we build personal relationships if they are pragmatically necessary, i.e., they help us on our journey to the top. However, in the context of the “individual competition” that occurs, we reach the top on the pile of dead bodies we leave in our wake.

Most managers honestly don’t care about employees or take an interest in employee personal needs. All they know is who their stars are−those that can make them look good−or the ones that suck-up to them, i.e., their loyal sycophants. The result of this indifference to the majority of the workers is a significant issue and leads to the belief that if the boss doesn’t care why should the employees?

Gallup reported in two large-scale studies that only 30% of U.S. employees are engaged (care) at work, and a staggeringly low 13% worldwide are engaged. Worse, over the past 12 years, these low numbers haven’t budged, meaning that the vast majority of employees worldwide are failing to really care about their work. So the question is what causes this? What are the problems keeping people from being engaged, contributing and enjoying their work? Answer: the people at the top.

In support of this, Gallup also estimates that managers account for 70% of variance in employee engagement scores. When managers have real management/leadership talent, teamwork develops and the organization thrives. However, when managers don’t have that talent, the exact opposite is true. In other words, “the neck of every bottle is at the top.”

Even more profound, Gallup also uncovered: Companies fail to choose the candidate with the right leadership talent 82% of the time. There’s a reason for this−authentic leadership talent is very rare. Gallup research shows that just 1 in 10 have the natural, innate talent to lead. This explains how a charismatic sociopath can make everyone think he/she is a great leader. Thus they are promoted over those who can truly “lead” and don’t have dead bodies in their wake.

Because of this most companies are wasting time and resources attempting to train bad managers to be leaders when they’re simply not capable. It’s the old story of the terrific engineer who gets promoted to manager yet has absolutely zero leadership skills. Thus the organization will attempt to train into the person leadership skills. And recall what Jim Clifton alluded to above: No amount of seminars, consultants, 360 performance reviews, and so forth can fix a person who’s not leadership material.

Those few “gifted” leaders (the 1 in 10) know how to motivate every individual (not just the sycophants) on their team, review strengths-based performance (without the archaic, demotivating performance review process), build relationships (true teamwork), overcome adversity, and make decisions based on facts, not the politics of advancement. Thus 1 organization in 10 is probably led by a true leader−no wonder it’s a crap-shoot in finding one of these type organizations when job hunting.

And speaking of the ability to overcome adversity: The true “neck of the bottle” is displayed for all to see when a manager−with no real talent for leadership−deals with workplace problems. They rely on manipulation, divide and conquer techniques, interpersonal games, and office politics, all reinforced by their lack of communication skills and empathy required to lead people effectively. In a crisis they’re first reaction is to run around yelling “off with his head” all the while looking for someone to blame. For these type managers, the employees, in the end, are nothing more than another resource that can be manipulated−a tool to get the job done. I think it was Henry Ford who quipped that his factory workers were nothing but “a tool with a voice.”

If you have any doubts about the reality of all that I present here consider how many performance appraisals you’ve sat through in your career that reduce both your performance and career potential into quantitative measures (on a scale of 1 to 5) of your weaknesses, rather than qualitative review of, and emphasis on, your strengths or your leadership potential. If more attention was paid to strengths maybe more true leaders would find their way to the top. Right now the whole focus on “results” almost guarantees the sociopaths will rise to the top.

In his June 14, 2012 HBR Blog article “How to Get Senior Leaders to Change,” Scott Keller tells us, “Most executives don’t see themselves as ‘part of the problem.’ Therefore, deep down, they do not believe that it is they who need to change, even though in principle they agree that leaders must model the desired changes. Take, for example, a team that reports that, as a group and as an organization, they are low in trust, not customer-focused and bureaucratic. How many executives when asked privately will say “no” to the questions “Do you consider yourself to be trustworthy?” and “Are you customer-focused?” and “yes” to the question “Are you a bureaucrat?” None, of course.”

If you’re a manager, the buck must stop with you−you are the neck of the bottle.


One Response to “The Neck of Every Bottle Is At the Top”
  1. Magnificent weƄsite. A lot of helpful info hеre.

    I am sеnding it to a few buddies and alsо sharing in deliciоus.

    And certainly, thank you for your sweat!

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