On Management

Dec. 21, 2004
How it really is -- one man's view.

Every now and then, a reader responds to one of my columns with a dose of reality so harsh that it really hits home. One reader reacted that way to the column titled "The company that plays together stays together." That truism doesn't hold in his world, he says emphatically. Since I suspect that his views may mirror those of other readers, here are a number of excerpts from his blunt e-mail message:

  • "Finding and maintaining talented employees is not 'uppermost' in the minds of many company executives today. Their minds are on two things: their personal financial well-being and cost control through inventory or resource reduction."
  • "Creativity is not rewarded. Instead, conformity, avoiding political waves, nodding a lot, and the suppression of passion are the rule of the day. Creativity is seen as threatening to those who lack competence. . . . CEOs are autocrats who ignore creative talent and fresh ideas unless they are perceived as their own." As I read these comments, I realized that I have been in places like this, too. I guess I had blocked those old, unpleasant memories out of my mind. How many of you think those descriptions fit your company?
  • "Your use of the word 'family' in the context of the corporate world is simply ludicrous. [Do family members] stab each other in the back, look out only for themselves, never communicate, often hoard information, typically demand more from others than is reasonable, expect you to respect values which conflict with your rearing, demand obedience rather than respect, take advantage whenever possible . . . ?" The failure of the family at home seems to parallel the failure to achieve family relationships at work. Many companies feel little allegiance to their workers, and vice versa. With both parents (if there are two) working 50 to 60 hours per week, neither the "home family" nor the "work family" works very well. This is a huge social dilemma of our times.
  • "Not everyone can afford to walk away from that which is not fun. Not everyone can tolerate moving their family, changing their children's school, ignoring their spouse's career, [or] commuting for hours every day because they can't move until their house gets sold. I have seen the eyes of good people who lack hope, but stay because they feel they are without realistic options."
  • "Many manufacturing companies are only three decisions away from Chapter 11. They lack true leadership, suppress creativity, and prevent those who can help them from being in a position to help them." Above all else, great leadership is what fosters the environment and feeling I described in my earlier column. There are few limits to what people will do to follow leaders who are truly caring and insightful. And there are some sacrifices that such leaders will seldom ask of them -- except in the direst of situations.
  • "When will we start to consider integrity, pride, honor, commitment, and humility [to be] commendable values . . . and appreciate passion in beliefs, trust in a shared goal, and respect [for a] diversity of views? Until such a time, we have little hope of achieving the nirvana you write about."
  • "Yes, memories last a lifetime. I just hope when I finally work for a company like the one you write about that I am not so cynically socialized by the real world that I fail to recognize it."
Yes, my friend, I hope that someday you, too, can enjoy such a place of work. I thank you for your dose of reality. Like a bucket of ice water in the face, it made me realize that many people struggle daily in bad situations and with wrong-headed leadership like you describe. Can we change this? Yes, I believe so. It will happen neither as fast nor as easily as we would like, but that is no reason to stop trying. Every step, every voice that helps bring about such change is one more brick in the foundation. Thanks for yours. John Mariotti, a former manufacturing CEO, is president of The Enterprise Group (www.shape-shifters.com ). He lives in Knoxville. His e-mail address is [email protected].

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