"the truth is utterly concealed"

From The Economist: Bosses think their firms are caring. Their minions disagree.

Tragicomically, the study found that bosses often believe their own guff, even if their underlings do not. Bosses are eight times more likely than the average to believe that their organisation is self-governing. (The cheery folk in human resources are also much more optimistic than other employees.) Some 27% of bosses believe their employees are inspired by their firm. Alas, only 4% of employees agree. Likewise, 41% of bosses say their firm rewards performance based on values rather than merely on financial results. Only 14% of employees swallow this.

It’s like the aristocracy prior to the French revolution or the 1% sipping champagne while the 99% occupy Wall Street. This kind of disconnect is not good. Common language and metaphors are essential for understanding. When one group sees the glass half full while the other has no glass, how can there be meaningful dialogue? “Leadership by walking around” or getting executives off their butts and out of their offices and board rooms would be a good start. The business world is changing and nobody is going to understand what’s happening from inside the walls and filters of the C-suites.

As soon as you create a reporting chain, you add information filters. Too many filters and reality gets distorted. As Tim Harford wrote in his book, Adapt: Why success always starts with failure:

There is a limit to how much honest feedback most leaders really want to hear; and because we know this, most of us sugar-coat our opinions whenever we speak to a powerful person. In a deep hierarchy, that process is repeated many times, until the truth is utterly concealed inside a thick layer of sweet-talk.

I hope organizational leaders wake up soon, for their sake and ours.

2 Responses to “"the truth is utterly concealed"”

  1. Ken Otter

    This is not surprising data. Too few people pay attention to developing their personhood, too few institutions in society encourage and incorporate such development. Consequently, when people get into roles and positions of authority they do not wear it well. On the whole “bosses” are not an enlightened bunch.

    I do wish we could get away from conflating leadership with the exercise of authority, thus not equate leaders with supervisors or managers. I know this is common, but it really just diminishes and constrains what leadership should be about–the activity of people regardless of position or role in service of the meaningful work that needs to get done.

    From this perspective, the exercise of leadership can be understood in terms of: being of service, discerning what is meaningful, what constitutes progress, and engaging stakeholders in the process. The capacities and skills needed for this are the same one’s needed for developing one’s personhood. In this way, attention to be human can then be an integral part of institutional and organizational life.

  2. Peter Nowlan

    Agree with Ken Otter, the concept of leadership in most people’s heads (especially leaders) is historically tangled with authority, power, privilege … and entitlement to much higher rewards than anyone else. (eg Walk round Blenheim Palace, and wonder what those who actually FOUGHT at Battle of Blenheim were rewarded with! ). These assumptions about leadership are toxic and limiting, although they feel great for the leader, and are therefore unlikely to be changed by leaders.
    The only thing that will do so, perhaps, is when the more evolved approach to which Ken refers starts making spectacular returns for shareholders …
    Happy new year to all!


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