In recent films (e.g., The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Divergent) we’re assailed by butt kicking heroines who rescue their worlds from disaster, and who simultaneously improve the moral tenor. Divergent’s protagonist discovers that she doesn’t readily “fit” when her government sponsored test is unsuccessful. Those who know they’re being duped (in her society) are considered dangerous to the standing order.
People who discern broken systems are a threat to their continuance – and a cause of alarm to the power elite. In the spirit of cognitive complexity, companies that wish to capitalize on a diverse workforce should in fact want people who can appreciate others’ viewpoints. The problem arises when firms don’t necessarily wish to relinquish the control that’s necessary for these acts to occur – or, to curry the opposition that would enable subsequent improvement.
In Heron’s Six Categories of Intervention, authoritative behaviors are categorized as prescriptive, informing, and confronting. This management style clashes with the skills, qualities, and behaviors that make for expressive team members. “Divergents threaten the system; it won’t be safe until they’re removed.” Heavy handed rulers punish those they view as culpable – with culpability defined as non-conformance. These managers then engage in either public or private shaming tactics to instill obedience – and to send a message to employee onlookers. From Catching Fire, “More public floggings, more televised executions.” In the end, the insurgents rebelled.
In describing the power of peer bonds, CEO Bill Watkins states, “People put their lives on the line for the respect of their platoon mates.” The most basic control tactic is stripping select workers. Because few people have the moral fortitude to stand for their convictions (under these circumstances), the establishment thus wins. Workers are goaded to “toe the line” and to get with the program. For Divergents abuse can have the opposite effect. “We have to fight back.” Conformists run for cover, whereas divergents don their “game on” battle gear. Their currency is counter-moves.
Similarly, team implementation absent democratic management will tank. Power mongers left as managers will use the same tactics that were tolerated within former regimes. In the compartmentalized world Divergent describes, initiates don’t question the rules. They simply do as they’re told.
The “new millennium worker” wants to be viewed as partner. This person will respond positively to the facilitative leadership style (e.g., that which is supportive, empathic, compassionate, and encouraging). Loosening the reigns requires an element of trust, and a faith in employees’ determination to provide quality work. Approachability is not based on fear, but on collaborative intent.
How can companies strive for divergence on a daily basis? Below are a few suggestions:
- Job rotation: It’s easy to criticize other people, especially when you don’t have a full understanding of what they’re trying to accomplish. What if you walked in their shoes for a month, a week, or even just one day? You might then be less likely to torpedo their proposals.
- Management development. Bosses can suffer from “dean’s disease,” the result of “…the tug of flattery that those in power are the heirs to and the comfort of being surrounded by people who never contradict them.” Bedeian explains that the process of learned superiority creates individuals who are rigid, suspicious, easily slighted, distrustful of others, insensitive, undiplomatic, and inconsiderate. A management development program based on employee feedback helps bosses work on their blind spots, and become more affable leaders.
- Debate. There’s nothing like seeing both sides of an issue to stimulate improvement. Because the workplace is comprised of many personalities (e.g., introverted, extroverted), the debate format should be facilitated in both verbal and non-verbal formats. Some firms use a horseshoe configuration and individual computer screens to display employees’ responses up front, allowing for both simultaneous and anonymous contributions. All parties can thus express their viewpoints without feeling bullied by more aggressive parties.
Whatever method a company chooses, the counter-intuitive strategy of encouraging employees to buck the system results in corporate growth. Stagnation only benefits the few who tight fistedly grasp power.
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Bedeian, A. G. (2002). The dean’s disease: How the darker side of power manifests itself in the office of dean. The Academy of Management Learning & Education, 2, pp. 164-173.