Passion or Indifference … You Choose

Below is an excerpt from Bob Sutton’s article “Nasty People” on the CIO Insight website. I’d suggest you read the whole column and also watch the video of Sutton’s P.O.V.:

A woman from England, for example, lamented, “I endeavor to lead by positive example, raise issues to the powers that be and provide constructive help to the people who work under me on how to deal with the jerks in our midst. The problem in my organization, however, is that jerkdom is so institutionalized and rewarded I can’t see any way out.” My answer was that if senior management is unwilling to change, and some kind of internal political action is impossible, her options were to keep treating the symptoms in herself and others—or perhaps best of all, to look for another job.

As I think about it now, I would also add that, although thousands of books offer breathless prose about the virtues of having deep commitment to, and passion about, your workplace, there are times when self-preservation requires the opposite response. There are times when the answer is indifference, when the wisest course is to go through the motions, learn not to care, and just get through the day until something changes on your job, or something better comes along. Yes, it is better if you have the power to change a bad situation, or leave it. But we all face bad situations we must endure; none of us have complete power. Indeed, I am starting to believe that, as a management professor, part of my job is to teach people when indifference is more useful than passion.

My colleague Chris Nel recently posted a blog “Purpose beyond Profit,” which addresses the idea that people in large corporations too often aren’t inspired and have no sense of purpose.

Unfortunately, to compound this problem, there are also complete jerks for managers who suck the absolute life out of their workforce to the point where they’ve created a bunch of worker drones just trying to survive their day. Forget sense of purpose … what about sense of self?

I’m amazed at the number of incredibly well-intentioned people I talk to (some friends, some strangers) who “like what they do” but are disheartened by the lack of inspiration they feel at work. There are others who have simply given up. It’s sad, really. A close friend of mine was completely frustrated in her job and all the changes that had recently occurred there. When she went to her boss to discuss her frustration, her boss’ response was simply, “If you can’t handle your job, I’ll find someone who can.” Needless to say, after several pounds of weight gain, fights with her husband, and days spent at home lying on her couch crying, she requested to move into a different role. Fortunately, she was given that opportunity, and now she’s just biting the bit until her husband’s business grows to the point where she can “retire.”

My opinion has always been that we promote people into “leadership” positions who aren’t prepared to take on the role of directing the lives and livelihood of others. Promoting the best engineer, the best salesperson, or the best programmer doesn’t make for the best manager/leader. Newly appointed leaders are still so stuck in the ways of the individual contributer, that they don’t have the time or wherewithal to lead. When are we going to stop using selection processes that were designed during the industrial era? Why does one have to excel in his/her job before he can become a leader? It’s not the same job!

Darci Riesenhuber posted this on April 9, 2007, in Leadership.
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