I used to smile wryly when someone would complain that they weren’t getting ahead in their career because of “politics.” Nine times out of ten, the would-be victim was socially awkward, not as skilled in their job as they believed they were, or just a plain asshole to others.
People like to work with people they like, after all, and those in power are no exception. So when the time comes to select one of the laboring masses to pull up to their rarified air, they will break a tie of equally-qualified candidates by choosing who they most like having around. Occasionally they’ll even take the second-or-third-best candidate based on technical ability, knowing they might have to share a week-long business trip with them someday, and don’t want to get rung up on manslaughter charges by that Friday.
I was, and am, on board with this as a reasonable way to operate, an unavoidable corollary of the human aspect of organizations. I understand that keeping a harmonious environment in an office, for the greater good, might require a perceived screwjob now and then.
Something that happens far more often than it should, though, is neither advisable nor excusable – insecure management penalizing their employees for not being submissive enough.
On a spectrum of employee allegiance that ranges from total obedience to complete insubordination, there is a grey area in the middle – an area where your instructions are followed and your position is respected, though occasionally your directions are questioned. Some tasks may be completed dutifully, but with a tight-lipped implied objection to the goal or method.
As long as the line demarcating insubordination isn’t crossed, this should be an organic, healthy feedback to any manager. No matter how strong of a manager you are, you will make mistakes, and it is usually staffers residing in this grey area that make you cognizant of it.
If you’re insecure in your position as a manager, though, you find that you just can’t handle your people being in this grey area. You need this allegiance for the sake of your ego – not for the benefit of the organization. Indeed, fostering an environment devoid of respectful challenge and alternate viewpoints is one of the most harmful actions you can take as a manager, with regards to the success of your organization. Improvements stop being made. New ideas never surface. The team stagnates at best and regresses at worst.
Although insecurity is a trait present in all genders, obviously, it stands to reason that cultural mores regarding power and gender are more likely to make males feel a need to be constantly reassured that they are powerful. Men and women both like to feel powerful and respected – but far more often than women, men will feel a need to feel powerful.
So much of their identity is tied in to this sense of power – even though it can be something so trivial as their position on an organization chart – that they cannot, in practice, separate this need for ego-stroking from making the best decisions for the greater good. In turn, performance and morale – and eventually, profit – are reduced tangibly.
All other things being equal, then, maybe the best way to staff your management team is to include “vagina preferred” in the job listing; they’re less likely to drag down your fiscal gains to boost their own ego.