Companies with “humility” as core value will flourish because they are hungry to learn
Some managers who are actually brilliant; begin to truly believe that they are always right
It was around 4 years ago, that this dawned upon me. I was sitting at a lounge of a local 5-star one evening, in between appointments. I got a tap on a shoulder and it was an old friend. He was there for an interview with a HR person from an upcoming telecom company. So we chatted for a while and the HR person arrived. I shifted to the next table. Now, I had about 30 minutes for the next appointment to begin, so, with nothing to do, I couldn’t help but notice the body language at the next table. The HR person had a slight sneer on his face, while my friend was obviously uncomfortable with the whole thing. Suddenly, without warning, another person, from the same company arrived. There were no introductions, the man simply sat at the table, pulled out his pack and lit a Marlboro lights, blowing the smoke at my friend (a teetotaler). The man did not speak a word throughout the entire exchange, just kept taking puffs and blowing smoke. The HR person’s sneer remained until the end. Needless to say, my friend did not take it further.
How many of us have faced this situation during our work lives?
I have seen great many instances of this attitude among managers. We are not born with it, but it gets developed.
Let’s take meetings, how many times have you faced this?
You walk in to the meeting with some trepidation armed with as much information you have on the day’s agenda. The discussion begins over a jargon filled presentation. You voice your opinion and immediately, the hotshot, across the table, cuts you off. You want to react, but bite your tongue and pretend nothing has happened. This goes on, finally, you need to make your point, and at that time, the hotshot looks at you with his down the nose gaze and says, ` You really don’t know anything!’
You are cut off. Your back is to the wall. It’s a fight or flight syndrome, you clench your teeth, trying a semblance of a smile and sit down, making the noises about how you were trying to say the same thing etc.
The above is a classic case of `I am right and you are wrong.’ What happens here, is that some managers who are actually brilliant; begin to truly believe that they are always right. We have seen them and continue seeing them every day. What also is truly amazing is that some companies actually encourage this kind of behavior. Appraisals have comments, `Needs to be more assertive.’ That’s nice speak for `abrasive.’
I recall a story I heard from another old friend about his days when he worked as a salesman in an FMCG; `I was woken up from my fifty rupees a night, 7-star lodge room in West Bengal, by my circle in charge. He knocked loudly on my door. We were in the level `H’ supervisory cadre in those days. This was commonly known as the `Harijan’ level.
He looked me in the eye, when I opened the door and said simply, `Go get me a bottle of rum.’ I complied meekly. The circle in charge received a glowing appraisal soon after from his boss.
Then there are mails from a certain CEO of a services company addressed to a group saying, if people commit to ______ (an act of error), they should be asked to go.
Let’s examine the impact a mail like that can have on people. Those who have committed that act of error, would start preparing their resumes, worse, they would quickly start preparing a cover up, or try to put the blame on someone else. A vicious atmosphere begins to get built soon after.
But the most important message that goes into the system is that it is OK to behave like that. That’s when arrogance becomes a default competency. When this behavior is exhibited by the ones at top, it is further reinforcement. We all like to ape our heroes (c’mon guys in your forties, let’s admit to our Mithun Chakravorthy hangover!), so when the hero displays this…
Now let’s examine what arrogance brings with it. In the `I am right, you are wrong syndrome’, what takes a beating is, you guessed it; listening!
Now let’s take a look at those revered financial institutions that triggered off the current global financial crisis…
It is well known that the common culture prevalent there was arrogance. Obama says greed; there is a linkage, but that’s a separate story altogether. Collectively, these institutions stopped listening to what was obvious: the subprime crisis! We are so used to aping our heroes; no one could think that they could do any wrong. So the AAA ratings were given, more banks jumped into the bandwagon and then came September 2008. I would not go any further, as you would be by now perfectly suicidal by all the sensationalism of the event that is now mercifully being played down by the media.
Other factors are your everyday instances you see around the workplace. I opine that the days of arrogance as a competency are definitely over! Companies cannot stop listening and arrogance does that. So the next time you wish to make a move, a due diligence on culture is definitely in order. Try to find a company that has humility as a value. These will flourish, because they are hungry to learn (as a child) from anyone, irrespective of their position or status.
I did and we are growing in double digits, even in these times!