Turnabout Is Fair
I don't quite know what is happening to me, but
I am beginning to feel some empathy for managers. In
our efforts to create accountable, high performing
and satisfying workplaces, we most often think that
if the management would change, the institution would
change. So we train them, write books for them,
consult to them.
I have felt for some time that the
problem with our leaders is not so much their
behavior but the depth and intensity of our
expectations of them. We persistently want our boss
to be our mentor, we want them to take responsibility
for our development. We get upset when they do not
act with integrity or work well together articulate a
clear vision, or serve as a powerful advocate for our
unit with those even higher in the institution.
It is disturbing that we expect so much
of our managers. For a shift in culture, something
more is required of the employees. Perhaps workers
are the cause and management is the effect. Our
frequent feelings of futility and frustration may be
from putting our eyes on the wrong prize. Here are
some wishes of myself and other employees that would
balance the equation and support the transformation
many of us seek.
1. Care for the success and well being of the whole
institution regardless of how it is managed. Stop
thinking that the organization has to earn loyalty.
Commit to its purpose and its customers even if
management no longer is so committed to us.
2. Mentor ourselves. Find our own teachers and
support, don't expect it from the boss or from human
resources. Be willing to pay for our own learning,
recruit our own coaches, plan our own continuing
education. Stop thinking the organization is
responsible for our development.
3. View our boss as a struggling human being, no more
able to walk their talk than we are able to walk
ours. Have some empathy for anyone who would have to
endure the reality of having us as their
subordinates. Besides, most bosses are more worried
about their bosses than they are about us. Why would
they be any different than us?
4. Learn how to run the business. Become economically
literate. Know the budget-cost-revenue connection of
everything we touch. Learn as many jobs as possible,
figure out what clients and customers want and how to
give it to them. And do it even if the pay system is
irrational and indifferent to anything that
5. Be accountable for the success of our peers.
Decide to support their learning and focus on their
strengths, rather than criticize their shortcomings.
Be their mentor, see their weaknesses as an
opportunity to learn forgiveness and tolerance. And
there is a battle with them over territory or budget,
give it away.
6. Accept the unpredictability of the situation we
are in. The future of the organization is a mystery
and no one knows how long these conditions will
exist. Outsource our fortune teller, and stop asking
where we are headed. Today is where we are headed and
that is enough.
7. Forget our ambition to get "ahead." Ahead of whom?
Why not stop competing with those around us? Maybe we
are not going to get promoted and our salary grade is
essentially peaking right now. The only hope we have
for more prosperity is if the institution really
grows and even then we will never get our fair share
of the rewards. Besides, if we do get promoted, who
is to say we will be any happier? My observation is
that the higher you go in the organization, the more
depressed people become.
8. View meetings and conversations as an investment
in relationship. Value a human relationship over an
electronic one. Assume we come together to make
contact with each other and any decisions we make are
simply a bonus. Agree to end one meeting this week
without a list or action plan. Besides, most of our
best plans get changed five minutes after we leave
the room and the lists are mostly a reminder of those
things we do not really want to do.
9. Deliver on our promises and stop focusing on the
actions of others. The clarity and integrity of my
actions will change the world. Stop thinking and
talking about the behavior of others. Let go of
disappointment in them and how they were too little
and too late. Maybe they had something more important
to do than meet our requirements. Similarly, no one
else is going to change. They are good the way they
10. If change is going to happen, it will be us.
Ghandi said that "if blood be shed, let it be ours."
We need to blink first. Shift our own thinking and do
it for our own sake, not as a hidden bargain designed
to control the actions of others.
11. Accept that most important human problems have no
permanent solution. No new policy, structure,
legislation or management declaration is going to fix
much. The struggle is the solution. Justice and
progress will always happen locally, on our watch, in
our unit, only as a result of our actions with those
in the immediate vicinity.
12. Stop asking "how?" We now have all the skills,
the methods, the tools, the capacity and the freedom
to do whatever is required. All that is needed is the
will and courage to choose to move on, and to endure
the uncontrollability of events.
13. Finally, stop seeking hope in the eyes and words
of people in power. Hope is for us to offer, not
request. Whatever we seek from our leaders can
ultimately only be found in the mirror. And that is
not so bad.
The point is to confront the passivity, isolation and
complaints that flood our workplaces. Employees are
powerful players in creating culture and we ignore
this when we act as if managers are the primary
agents of change. Managers and leaders are not off
the hook for how their power makes a difference. It
is just that the hook has room for many players-us
These guidelines could easily be
translated into ways to handle the difficulties of
marriage or ways for citizens to rebuild the
qualities of their community. They may seem to carry
a strain of cynicism, but they are more a witness of
faith. I have long felt that what we seek looking up
in our organizations are expectations and dependency
that is better directed at God rather than at a
second level supervisor.
Also, I write these with full knowledge
that they are rules I fall short of fulfilling.
Perhaps if I could act on what I know to be true, I
could stop writing, you could stop reading and we
could both seek in real literature, music and art
what we now seek on bookshelves filled with answer
manuals. We could stop going to consultants and
therapists and force them into real work. We could
turn in our degrees in engineering, technology,
finance and administration for ones in philosophy and
religion. And this would be the most practical thing
we could do.
Reprinted from the
October 1999 issue of News for a
July 2001 News
for a Change Homepage