I suspect it comes as no surprise to
anyone that my team did pretty much everything I hoped for this week.
Some people tell me that’s because I have low expectations. As a
general rule, though, I suspect it’s more because I tell them what I
want and stay out of their way while they do what needs doing. It’s
an odd concept for some folks but it works for me.
Their focus on what needs doing gave me
time to think about some other things. Like, for example, when did
naked aggression and even borderline assault become normal business
practices? When did we all appear, collectively, to say You know,
it’s ok for us to behave in a way which would make our third grade
teachers give us a swift swat in the pants?
I do not want to bemoan the loss of
some mythical golden age of business when men wore nice suits and
spoke politely; women dressed well, and children ate their broccoli
without complaint. Nor am I claiming to not participate; I act as
badly as everyone else at times. Yet, stepping back, what can I do
as a leader and what should I do as a recipient and participant in
the problem to effect a solution?
First I have to define my terms. What
I’m talking about here breaks down into two parts. One one level we
have a lot of attempts at social intimidation: displays of power over
others, threats, outright rudeness, and more logical fallacies than I
can shake a stick out. On another level we have raw animal
aggression: shouting, violation of personal space, staring contests,
and behavior best referred to by its old name of looming,
though I think current fashion tends to call it presence.
Personally I give people the benefit of
the doubt when it comes to physical aggression. People generally
don’t realize how close they stand, how loudly they shout, and when
they engage in staring contests. When the adrenalin gets pumping,
which it sometimes does in meetings or discussions, many people lose
control of their physical presence. Those who don’t generally get
promoted to leadership positions, but that’s a whole different story.
It’s only after repeated, blatant examples that I start to suspect
the person honestly intends to bully me.
Social intimidation requires very
careful consideration before I give it a pass, though. I’m
absolutely certain some people do it unconsciously. For most people,
though, it takes a lot of work to arrange and seize the circumstances
allowing for social intimidation, so I tend to believe these
behaviors stem from adaptation to the environment. Somewhere,
somehow, a leader allowed these behaviors to take root and flourish.
He allowed them to succeed, knowing they were short term approaches
incapable of producing either lasting change or lasting affect.
Understanding the problem, though,
doesn’t necessarily get me any closer to a solution. I cannot
control the behavior of others. As amusing as it might be in the
movies, I honestly don’t think I would want to. I have enough
problems dealing with my responsibility for my own actions and those
of my team; I don’t think I could deal with controlling others for
any length of time.
Anyway. Response is, always, divided
into two parts as well. In the first part you deal expressly with
tactics, or how you deal with the immediate situation. In the second
you deal with strategy, or how you intend to resolve the
circumstances so the situation never occurs in the first place. Any
response containing just one element will inevitably fail in the long
Strategically I’m focused on making the
behaviors irrelevant. Not punishing them, or making them costly, but
completely irrelevant to the circumstances in which we work. Once
the behavior becomes something outside of the system, rather than a
part of it, it will either cease or the individuals engaged in it
will find another place where they can lord it over everyone.
Tactically I focus on stillness. This
doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows me. I choose to not
react, refocus the confrontation on the business at hand, or simply
walk away. I suspect others see that later as submitting or a sign
of submission. Really, though, I’m more focused on getting what
needs doing done than I am on playing games with other people’s
emotions and their lives. If walking away defuses the situation and
allows work to get done I’ll do it, happily. My ego and my
masculinity source in things other than my workplace dominance.
Much to ponder there is. Think about
it over the week, I will.