Today I read, and recommended an article by a CEO entitled A Good Place to Work. Reading the article quickly, as I sometimes do, given the multitude of blogs I am daily faced with, I concentrated on its core message: Being a good company is an end itself. This aligned with my current thinking. There is so much focus today—especially in the Agile world—on getting product out of the door, and keeping customers happy that we often neglect the greater goal of a purposeful, meaningful work place.
The CEO’s tactics to get there however are very much out of alignment with my preferred approach, and my recommendation was met by some of my twitter followers with incredulity, disappointment, confusion, and a raised eyebrow. I defended the article (or perhaps myself!) based on my primary focus, but to be fair, my critics were right to object. The CEO acted like a bully, using intimidation and threat to get his way.
Still, it gives me pause for thought, and takes me on another track. Who is really in the wrong in the described scenario? I come down on the executive who was spoken to so aggressively. What does he do? He just takes it, with a yes sir, no sir, kowtowing demeanour. The CEO is behaving in the best way he knows how, based on his (described) upbringing. He is not in the right, by any measure, but worse, he is enabled in his behavior by his employees. And that, right now, is what’s interesting to me about this article.
The CEO was unkind, that is clear. Less clear is the unkindness of the executive. It is easy to feel threatened, intimidated and hurt by someone in power. Most of the time those so affected simply take it; they carry the burden, building up resentment and indignation, and poisoning the environment still further. The responsibility for change is not only on the people in power. That’s too much to ask. It is on us, each one of us, regardless of position or pay scale. Until we stand up for ourselves, and strive to change our own behavior to support our own ideals we’ll continue to perpetuate—and even exacerbate—the existing dysfunction.
The CEO has a noble goal. And he has a lousy technique for getting there. As employees we can seek to draw such people into dialog, rather than pandering to their anger. Tough job, no doubt, and it runs the risk for us of being fired. The risk of staying however is far more damaging, to ourselves, our oppressor, and to the world.
So thanks Dave Rooney, Ron Jeffries, Mike Sutton and Bob Marshall for confronting me today. It gives me a chance to reflect, and to learn to consider more carefully what I endorse.