Who Needs Who?
Many long-accepted concepts by which people still manage their businesses and their careers died several decades ago. These concepts live on as myths. Those of us who continue to live by them can hurt themselves and their interests very seriously. The micro-case which follows will help clarify the point I want to make.
Says the young ambitious professional to the boss: “I am not sure it is the best approach to solving this particular problem.”
Says the boss to the young professional: “Remember that I own this company. If you don’t like the way I do things, you can go elsewhere.”
Young Professional: “I don’t mean to offend, but I thought I was fully responsible for this project. I have been researching it for the past year and have also been working on different applications.”
Boss: “Fine, fine, I know that you are working and all that, but now there is something much more urgent for you to attend to.”
Young professional: “But…”
Boss: “No buts about it! I just told you what is expected of you!”
This dialog demonstrates several levels of dysfunction:
Neither of the speakers really listens to the other.
Each of them sticks to an agenda regardless of the input from the other side.
Each speaker assumes an invincible position: “I have the upper hand and can’t be beaten.”
The young professional assumes that his project is an end in itself.
The boss assumes that he knows best.
Both accept seniority and patriarchy as a measure of relative status.
Both underestimate the impact of constant and continuous change on business development.
Let us look at each point in turn. Although the speakers have heard and understood the meaning of the words uttered by the other neither of them has heard the underlying and most important message being communicated by the other. The boss is saying that something new has changed in the circumstances and rapid adjustments are called for. The young professional is saying that he has become so attached to what he is doing that he would hate to do anything different. Neither recognizes the other’s needs for support and understanding.
Each of the speakers has a unique vantage point. From that particular perspective their individual positions seem to be fully justified in their own minds. Neither of them has communicated to the other the rationale for changing or not changing the present course of action. Such an exchange of views could have resulted in one party being convinced of the other’s point of view or the emergence of a completely different solution resulting from a synthesis of views. In such a case both sides would feel less hostile about the necessary change in action.
Each of the speakers addresses the other as if he/she is in a superior position. Surely the boss has privileged information that it may not always be appropriate to disclose completely. However the boss can speak to the young professional in a tone and manner that recognizes the professional as an adult who is making a significant contribution to company development. The young professional speaks with the arrogance of someone who feels that his/her expertise is somehow indispensable. The truth is that they both need each other: the boss provides resources that the professional may not have been able to access independently and the professional provides expertise that the boss may not possess.
The young professional acts as if the project at hand is the most important thing to the company. It may be important, but such an attitude reveals a perspective limited to immediate operations and disconnected from the larger environmental picture or the strategic considerations for long-term survival.
The boss assumes he/she knows best. That may be so, but people get very much further with young professionals if enough information is shared to demonstrate the more global vision of conditions and expertise in making business judgments. Such behavior would enable the boss to lead through credibility instead of coercion.
Both speakers act as if seniority and patriarchy are the norm for defining relative status. The boss is not shy about displaying his power and the young professional acknowledges this power by retreating into a more conciliatory mode of communication when he/she hears the uncompromising tone of the boss.
Finally, both underestimate the need for a high level of flexibility in today’s business management approach. Whether we like it or not, contemporary business is driven by technology, by massive amounts of specialized knowledge, by high-speed global information transfer and by gigantic financial conglomerates and economic alliances which supersede government and political constraints. The days of the slow-moving, bureaucratic hierarchy are long gone. Today’s businesses have to be lean, responsive, collaborative, dynamic and supremely flexible.
To sum up, I will point out a number of changes that will affect both employers and employees. The business environment has become so complex that there is no room for an “I know best” attitude. Sound business decisions are the work of dynamic multi-disciplinary management teams. Seniority is important only from the perspective of mature judgment and credibility.
The accumulation of knowledge and experience are valuable only if they are combined with continuous learning and development because of the high degree of obsolescence in the knowledge-base and technology of so many fields. No one can afford to be comfortable in a life-time job or area of specialization. The pace of innovation and global competition imposes a stance of unceasing proactivity and creativity.
Collaboration and team work are the hallmarks of the future because there will be so much information that needs to be shared and exchanged in order to make sound decisions, develop new ideas and compete effectively on global markets. The power of human intelligence and creativity, multiplied to the utmost by the synergy of team work to produce innovative solutions to a steady stream of new and constantly evolving circumstances is going to be the most important competitive advantage in the coming decades. We need radical changes in our attitudes to business relationships, ownership and the significance of wealth if we are to emerge as successful business leaders in the years to come.
Who needs who? The days of the one-man show are numbered. Only dwarf-sized businesses can be run on the basis of, “I am everything here.”
Fay Niewiadomski founded ICTN (International Consulting & Training Network) in 1993. ICTN provides complete management services to its clients who are among the leading regional and multinational players. Furthermore, she has worked with CEOs, Board Members, Presidents and Ministers of Government and other Leaders to help them meet the challenges of change within their organizations through creative problem solving, management interventions and powerful communication strategies. Prior to founding ICTN, she researched the subject of “Managing Change through Needs-Based Assessment’ in large Lebanese Organizations” for her doctoral work at the University of East Anglia in the UK. Additionally, she also held various university positions as a professor at AUB and LAU and as Dean of the Faculty of Humanities at NDU.