Saturday, October 8

Pretenders to power are the most dangerous

Dear Son
Here's an interesting article on usage of power. The column is obviously written in a bit of a humorous and facetious note, but there are some important messages in here.

1. Always remember the people in the junior positions or in positions like mentioned in the article in here. One of the things you have to remember is that they are usually fairly boring old jobs and they will not have the exciting life that you lead. So you will realise that pretty much everybody overlooks these people. Whether its the person on the check out desk in Salisbury's, or the security man or the lollipop lady or the check-in desk, its pretty much guaranteed that they are doing a bit of a repetitive role. And when that happens, the reaction will be like its described below. But DONT react to this, have a smile and keep on going. But more importantly, spend some time in establishing a relationship with these people at work, the secretary, the janitor, the mail room person. That helps in you being a better manager, you realise the importance of every person in the office and in your team.

2. Never react obstreperously to people in authority such as immigration guards, security guards, etc. etc. People forget that their jobs are to guard you and ensure security. Second, the rules that they are following, and yes, sometimes they can go overboard, are not of their making. These rules have been made by somebody much more senior, somebody quite like you and they are merely the executors. Finally, getting upset with them doesn't help ANYTHING and actually can have a bad impact on you and your results. Stay calm, collected and cool. Patience is key to deal with them.

3. You also have to remember that these people have very little job security and can be replaced very easily. So their only way of ensuring their job security is to follow the rules strictly.

4. Finally, you will meet nasty people in your life. But as I keep on saying, its their choice to be nasty, sarcastic or power mad. Its YOUR choice whether or not to respond to that. You see, when faced with a power mad, nasty chap, what I try to do is to remember what's important in my life. Is getting upset with this jumped up popinjay, getting stressed at the checkout lady, swearing and effing, ruining the day worth it? No, its not, what is more important is when I get home, i see you, spend time with you and Diya, cook with you guys, tickle Diya and tease you and Mamma and and and. But if I am upset or angry with somebody at work, I dont get to do these things and be happy at home. So I suffer a double loss. So exercise your choice to ignore these nasty creatures. That's their choice to be nasty and make horrible comments. Its your choice to whether or not you accept it.

So you can do this little test, in your next trip to the mall or when you are out with your friends, note the people in the tube ticket office, the security guards, the person in the corner shop, the street sweeper, the janitor, etc. and see how they behave. Also, do you know the names of the person who cleans your school or the maintenance person? If not, why not? Have a think.


Last week, I turned up at the offices of a well-known company to interview its chief executive.
In reception, a security guard issued me with a pass but refused to let me though the barrier on the grounds that I’d attached it to my bag rather than to my coat.
When I’d moved it as directed, he let me in with the gruff warning that I wouldn’t be allowed out unless the pass was returned to him undamaged. On the other side of the barrier the chief executive waited, all charm and urbanity.
Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely, as Lord Acton famously wrote. But I don’t think he got it quite right: power may corrupt, but absolute power corrupts a lot less than partial power – as the story of the CEO and the security guard demonstrates.
This thesis is upheld by a new study showing that people who have a little power but don’t have status can behave in nasty ways and get a kick out of demeaning others. The research, to be published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, describes an experiment in which students were told to issue orders to others. Those who were assigned low-status roles tended to delight in getting people to do humiliating things – like making them bark like a dog three times – while those in higher status jobs treated them with more respect.
Reading about this experiment took me straight back to a scene of torture and cruelty that took place six weeks ago at Heathrow airport. I had arrived absurdly early to put my son on a flight to the US, but after an interminable wait at the Delta counter discovered I’d forgotten to get him an electronic visa.
There began a nightmare scramble through the airport to find a computer, to type in the information and finally get the visa. Then, in a torment of travel anxiety, we charged back to the check-in, where a man with a walkie-talkie looked at his watch. There were still 58 minutes to go before the plane left, but he shook his head: too late. My son wept. I pleaded and grovelled and would have happily barked like a dog.
“I’m sorry, madam,” he said in the least sorry voice I’d ever heard. In his eye was a sadistic gleam.
In telling this tale I am not saying that all people doing lowly roles enjoy lording it over an incompetent, hysterical mother; some of them are remarkably nice.
However, there is a syndrome of lowly nastiness that tends to get overlooked in management theory. It is often observed that the people at the top are bastards, but we forget that the people at the bottom can be even bigger ones. Which isn’t really very surprising: if I were a security guard or worked in the Hades of Heathrow, I’d be pretty horrid too.
The researchers argue that the best way of discouraging tyranny lower down the pecking order is to make sure that the jobs are not dead-ends and that advancement is possible. I don’t agree. The nastiest people I’ve worked for were junior managers hell bent on climbing the ladder.
I can think of one particular man who I worked under briefly in my 20s who was only one rung above me, but used to delight in reading out loud all my clumsiest sentences for the whole department’s enjoyment.
Now he has a very grand job indeed and is much less beastly. I bumped into him at a party the other day, and he even made a joke at his own expense.
It is true that not everyone gets more civilised as they climb the ladder. Gordon Brown wasn’t noticeably softened by the experience of power. Neither was Joseph Stalin.
But for most people success does seem to mean they become more outwardly agreeable. They are more confident, and their elbows are less sharp. Their jobs are more interesting and everyone sucks up to them. And if these things aren’t enough to exert a softening effect, then there is always the solace of the ginormous pay packet.
This isn’t to say that absolute power makes bad people good. It is merely that there is less need to be horrible for the fun of it.
Corruption works differently at the top: the truly powerful disappear into a haze of vanity and solipsism and other people don’t matter enough to torture, or to heed in any way.
If anyone doubts that, I can quote another piece of research, to be published soon in Organisational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes, proving that the powerful don’t listen.
The only surprise here is that it took four academics at New York University two and a half years to reach a conclusion that everyone knows already.

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