My continuing strand from my post in May on where are our leaders of character?
I have spent my professional life studying adaptive behavior–how changes in ones environment lead to changes in the way leaders and subordinates/followers act, particularly in War. Recently, my studies reach out into the impacts of cultures on adaptability. Our society grows every more controlling as we evolve. These controls in the forms of laws, regulations, cultural norms, and even physical examples such as traffic signs/signals have proliferated in our country.
In another area, competition for fewer positions or scholarships or whatever has grown fiercely causing a gloat of great resumes, undermining team work and causing more unethical behavior on the part of individuals toward others as they seek these false awards.
Our cultural evolution is a result of two things, one society reacting to events by implementing more controls to a growing population (more people, more stress, less room to be free). And two, society is growing more risk averse at it adds controls in order to make a given environment safer (the last is a good intention gone overboard).
The following is an example of the latter. A car turns left at an unprotected left and gets side swiped by another car. Studies say this is the worse of accidents. Result, place a traffic light at that minor intersection that forces cars to wait for the signal (the protected left turn) to be green (decision made). As more controls are put in place to control more people, individuals make less decisions.
The next is an example of reaction to political correctness, and past misbehavior’s of a few. Instead of punishing those who commit the error, mass punishment is put in place to eliminate all possibility of future bad behavior, but in fact this reaction spills over to lesser forms of perceived bad behavior. The spillover eventually impacts how people make all of their decisions (or don’t make any decisions).
A manager in a business who also has leadership abilities takes over a new section (can be in government or private business). The new manager decides to enforce standards of performance, showing up on time, putting down the right hours, being productive at work through performance initiatives as well. Most of their subordinates like what they see and hear and react in a positive way, but a few do not like the new higher standards. The new manager also begins giving monthly performance counseling using 360 assessments made successful at Frito Lay.
Finally, one worker has had a enough of their “apple cart” upset and files an harassment complaint to their new boss’s chain of command. While the chain of command has been willing to give the new manager time to rectify the section he took over problems, this is not what the bargained for. Not wanting to bring undue outside heat on their company, they tell the new manager to back off their standards. Others see the result, accepted mediocrity at the expense of having to lead in enforcing standards. The section soon returns to what it was-performing at the margins, but there is peace by sacrificing standards for mediocrity.
Not really. I have heard and seen this same line over and over again in the military as well as the outside. Over time, controls and retaliations for violating political correctness, as well as our growing wealth have weakened leadership and undermines strength of character.
What is one to do? The answer is understand the true meaning of professionalism. Understand your areas of responsibility as well as any possible areas that may influence those you specifically oversee, study, study, know and practice them. I have taken on similar cases before, but because I knew what I was talking about, had my ducks in a roll, had researched how to do something, then I had the confidence in what I was doing to take on those who desired mediocrity.
More importantly, I kept my bosses well informed on my intentions and how they supported their larger goals, even though most times my objectives were out of the norm. Once the changes I pushed for began producing results, then the support became stronger. Before results did occur, though, I always had people who wanted to fight back. So, I had to take the time to win them over, not just say “I am the boss so you will change.” That way I built a team whether it be a team to achieve a given mission or one of my efforts at reform.
I continue to study, study and study, and then attempt to apply in order to learn and evolve. Most importantly, stand up for what you believe despite the short-term consequences.
Well, I am off to Gettysburg for four days to be with a bunch of great graduate students from Georgetown University’s Executive Masters in Leadership (EML) program. I teach a course using Gettysburg and the Civil War as a foundation to teach leadership. Then, the next week I am at Kennesaw State and the Cox Small Family Business Center teaching my workshop.
Once we realize why our society has evolved this way and the damages it has caused to independent thought and adaptability, then we can begin to counter them. But, it takes leaders of character to do so.