Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, September 5, 2022
By Neil Senturia
Labor Day, celebrated on the first Monday in September, is meant to honor the contributions that American workers have made to our country’s social and economic success.
I believe in the power and value of having a purpose. If that turns out to coincide with the work you are doing, you are one of the lucky ones. The underlying mission for every company, which wants to add value, is to define a purpose for the company that is believable to its employees and thus encourages them to come and add value to the enterprise.
OK, now that I have proven my socio-politico-economic cred, please allow me to get off my soapbox and share a few thoughts designed to remind you that the greater glory of work may not be all that it has cracked up to be:
“If a train station is where a train stops and a bus station is where a bus stops, what exactly is a work station?”
“I came home from work yesterday, raging at my boss. I told my wife I am never going to work for that man again.”
“Why?” she asked. “He fired me”
Another 11,239 jokes are available on the Internet, but you will have to do your own looking and laughing. I’m just priming the pump.
As an entrepreneur, it is a privilege to work on a project or launch a new company or volunteer for a non-profit. Whether it is manual labor or intellectual effort, the real gift is to be able to have the freedom to choose. Before we break our arms patting ourselves on the back, let’s understand that we all have bosses. Even if you are the CEO, you have a boss.
And I hope you have a good one. Stanford professor Deborah Gruenfeld has some choice thoughts on that subject. She says, “When confronted with a controlling, aggressive leader (boss), people have more power than they think.”
How can we not love the sales manager, Blake, (Alec Baldwin) in “Glengarry Glen Ross”? “As you all know, first prize in the contest is a Cadillac Eldorado, second prize is a set of steak knives, third prize is you’re fired.” Clearly, Blake must have taken a course at some esteemed Silicon Valley business school that promoted verbal abuse, profanity, and fear as the most excellent tools to motivate your troops.
I had a lawyer friend tell me early in my career, “The value of your company walks out the door every night, and you hope to hell they come back in the morning, or you don’t have a company any longer.”
That is the dirty secret. The “workers” have more power than they think or than they know, and the question that follows is why do they put up with bad behavior. The Blakes lead by dominance, and the sad part is that while they are terrible bosses, they are also often quite successful.
I have a client who works for a jerk, they pay him a ton of money and the company is going public, and he is going to get rich — and he hates the boss every day.
Gruenfeld says, “Our tendency to bow to the whims of dominant actors results from our fear of them, and what they might do if you refuse to follow them.” (Do any ex-presidents come to mind?)
If your boss is a jerk, why is everyone walking off the cliff for him/her? Gruenfeld notes a pervasive dilemma here, namely that “people are influenced by group dynamics. You fall under the spell of the dominant actor.” I am a strong proponent of finding your own line in the sand which you do not let anyone cross.
Talk to your fellow cohorts. No more blind leading the blind, when all of you can see clearly. No deferring to jerks. The personal cost is simply too high.
In the end, this is a day to pause and consider all the people you work for and all the people who work for you. Take one deep breath and be grateful. This work thing is complex and nuanced, and the feelings shift all the time. But one feeling for sure wins every contest — empathy. I’ll take the Cadillac in pink, if you don’t mind.
Rule No. 729:
“Take this job and …” — Johnny Paycheck