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Management and militarism: Just who are we fighting?

Management and militarism: Just who are we fighting?
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Two of the greatest influences on management thinking and practice have been the militaristic politics of the Roman Empire (via the Roman Catholic Church—a masterpiece of top-down, centralized, hierarchical control) and the world’s armies.

Look at the words we use: “command and control,” “stuck in the trenches,” “didn’t have the firepower.” We “attack the issues head-on.” When people oppose us they “shoot down our ideas” or “get us from behind,” forcing us to “retreat in disorder” or “give up without a fight.”

Management and leadership books are full of military phrases. Leaders are expected to be “steady under fire” and “take the fight to the opposition.” Colleagues praise those who “tough it out” and “show what they’re made of.” For small businesses, there is “Guerilla Marketing.” Even words like strategy, tactics, and leadership itself began on the battlefield.

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Does it matter? I think it does. The words we use to describe things reflect our mind-set in thinking about them. To a large extent, they determine the way we think about issues and the solutions we choose.

The distinctive language of Hamburger Management
If a manager describes competition with another company as “a war to the death” or “a fight to the finish,” a subtle message is being conveyed that this isn’t going to be a civilized rivalry between organizations. Warlike language produces warlike thoughts. If a team is told to “take the other guys down,” they’re not going to hear that as an instruction to behave with courtesy, sensitivity, or understanding.

All this macho, militaristic language, with its overtones of fighting and winning, inevitably produces an effect in the hearers. If we constantly “attack problems” and “take no prisoners,” where is the need to understand or get to the heart of issues? In our haste to “chalk up a victory,” there’s no space or time for compassion or thoughtfulness.

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Militaristic language is also quintessentially masculine. Perhaps that’s another, hidden aspect of the problems women face in organizations. If success is described in masculine terms—“winning the fight” and “destroying the opposition”—it’s little wonder if career women feel the only way to succeed is to take on masculine attributes.

Hamburger Management—that mix of aggression, cost-cutting, macho posturing, and ultra-short-term thinking that characterizes so many organizations today—uses harsh and warlike language almost as a reflex. That’s because it so accurately represents that way of thinking, with its emphasis on winning at all costs and “taking no prisoners.” And the more that type of language is accepted into executive suites, board rooms, and even training classes, the less likely we are to see the behavior implied by such language as unacceptable in any way.

Beware what you call things
It’s time we thought more carefully about the words we use and what that is doing to our thinking. Are the military virtues of aggression, dash, obedience, and heroic resistance truly what we need in organizational life? Do we want every disagreement turned into a “last-ditch defense” and every rivalry into a “fight for territory?”

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William Tecumseh Sherman said “War is cruelty” and he knew, better then most, what he was talking about. Importing the language of war into boardrooms and management suites quickly brings some of the cruelty along with it.

At the start of the twenty-first century, it seems our corporate leaders —like many of our middle managers too—are being encouraged to act more like Roman centurions battling the barbarian hordes than thinking, civilized managers.

Is that what we really want? When managers retire, do we want the “war stories” they tell their grandchildren to be truly tales of war?

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Be careful with your words. People around you will pick up on the overtones and subtle implications of what you say, as much as the meaning itself. Your subordinates will often act as you sound, not just as you ask. Customers too.

Unless you want your daily work to take place on a battleground, try using language that better expresses the civilized arena we would all like our workplaces to become.

Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order, who now lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life, and its companion site Slower Living. His recent articles on similar topics include When organizational loyalty creates a culture of fear and The importance of NOT doing things. His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization, is now available at all good bookstores.

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Last Updated on August 20, 2019

How to Find New Growth Opportunities at Work

How to Find New Growth Opportunities at Work

Career advancement is an enticement that today’s companies use to lure job candidates. But to truly uncover growth opportunities within a company, it’s up to you to take the initiative to move up.

You can’t rely on recruiter promises that your company will largely hire from within. Even assurances you heard from your direct supervisor during the interviewing process may not pan out. But if you begin a job knowing that you’re ultimately responsible for getting yourself noticed, you will be starting one step ahead.

Accomplished entrepreneur and LinkedIn Co-Founder Reid Hoffman said,

“If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward.”

It’s important to recognize that taking charge of your own career advancement, and then mapping out the steps you need to succeed, is key to moving forward on your trajectory.

Make a Point of Positioning Yourself as a Rising Star

As an employee looking for growth opportunities within your current company, you have many avenues to position yourself as a rising star.

As an insider, you’re able to glean insights on company strategies and apply your expertise where it’s most needed. Scout out any skills gaps, then make a point to acquire and apply them. And, when you have creative ideas to offer, make it your mission to gain the ear of those in the organization who can put your ideas to the test.

Valiant shows of commitment and enterprise make managers perk up and take notice, keeping you ahead of both internal and external competitors.

Employ these other useful tips to let your rising star qualities shine:

1. Promote Your Successes to Your Higher-Ups

When your boss casually asks how you’re doing, use this valuable moment to position yourself as indispensable: “I’m floating on clouds because three clients have already commented on how well they like my redesign of the company website.”

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Tell your supervisors about any and all successes. Securing a new contract or signing a new customer should be a cause for celebration. Be sure to let your bosses know.

2. Cultivate Excellent Listening Skills

Listen well, and ask great questions. Realize that people love to talk about themselves.

But if you’re a superb listener, others will confide in you, and you’ll learn from what they share. You may even find out something valuable about your own prospects in the company.

If others view you as even-minded and thoughtful, they’ll respect your ideas and, in turn, listen to what you have to say.

Check out these important listening skills: 13 Powerful Listening Skills to Improve Your Life at Work and at Home

3. Go to All Office Networking Events

Never skip the office Christmas party, your coworker’s retirement party, or any office birthday parties, wedding showers, or congratulatory parties for colleagues.

If others see you as a team player, it will help you rise in your company. These on-site parties will also help you mingle with co-workers whom you might not ordinarily have the chance to see. For special points, help organize one or two of these get-togethers.

Take the Extra Step to Show Your Value to the Company

Managers and HR staff know that it can be less risky – and a lot less costly — to promote from within. As internal staff, you likely have a good grasp of the authority structure and talent pool in the company, and know how to best navigate these networks in achieving both the company’s goals and your own.

The late Nobel-Prize winning economist, Gary Becker, coined the term “firm-specific,” which describes the unique skills required to excel in an individual organization. You, as a current employee, have likely tapped into these specific skills, while external hires may take a year or more to master their nuances.

Know that your experience within the company already provides value, then find ways to add even more value, using these tips:

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4. Show Initiative

Commit yourself to whatever task you’re given, and make a point of going above and beyond.

Position yourself so that you’re ready to take on any growth opportunities that present themselves. If you believe you have skills that have gone untapped, find a manager who will give you a chance to prove your worth.

Accept any stretch assignment that showcases your readiness for advancement. Stay late, and arrive early. Half of getting the best assignments is sticking around long enough to receive them.

5. Set Yourself Apart by Staying up on Everything There Is to Know About Your Company and Its Competitors

Subscribe to and read the online trade journals. Become an active member in your industry’s network of professionals. Go to industry conferences, and learn your competitors’ strategies.

Be the on-the-ground eyes and ears for your organization to stay on top of industry trends.

6. Go to Every Company Meeting Prepared and Ready to Learn

A lot of workers feel meetings are an utter waste of time. They’re not, though, because they provide face-time with higher-ups and those in a position to give you the growth opportunities you need.

Go with the intention of absorbing information and using it to your advantage — including the goals and work styles of your superiors. Respect the agenda, listen more than you speak, and never beleaguer a point.

Accelerate Your Career Growth Opportunities

A recent study found that the five predictors of employees with executive potential were: the right motivation, curiosity, insight, engagement, and determination. These qualities help you stand out, but it’s also important to establish a track record of success and to not appear to be over-reaching in your drive to move up in your company.

Try to see yourself from your boss’s position and evaluate your promote-ability.

Do you display a passion and commitment toward meeting the collective goals of the company? Do you have a motivating influence with team members and show insight and excellence in all your work?

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These qualities will place you front and center when growth opportunities arise.

Use these strategic tips to escalate your opportunities for growth:

7. Find a Mentor

With mentorship programs fast disappearing, this isn’t always easy. But you need to look for someone in the company who has been promoted several times and who also cares about your progress.

Maybe it’s the person who recommended you for the job. Or maybe it’s your direct supervisor. It could even be someone across the hall or in a completely different department.

Talk to her or him about growth opportunities within your company. Maybe she or he can recommend you for a promotion.

Not sure how to find the right mentor? Here’s How to Find a Mentor That Will Help You Succeed.

8. Map out Your Own Growth Opportunity Chart

After you’ve worked at the company for a few months, work out a realistic growth chart for your own development. This should be a reasonable, practical chart — not a pie-in-the-sky wish list of demands.

What’s reasonable? Do you think being promoted within two years is reasonable? What about raises? Try to inform your own growth chart with what you’ve heard about other workers’ raises and promotions.

Once you’ve rigorously charted a realistic path for your personal development within the company, try to talk to your mentor about it.

Keep refining your chart until it seems to work with your skills and proven talents. Then, arrange a time to discuss it with your boss.

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You may want to time the discussion around the time of your performance review. Then your boss can weigh in with what he feels is reasonable, too.

9. Set Your Professional Bar High

Research shows that more than two-thirds of workers are just putting in their time. But through your active engagement in the organization and commitment to giving your best, you can provide the contrast against others giving lackluster performances.

Cultivate the hard skills that keep you on the cutting edge of your profession, while also refining your soft skills. These are the attributes that make you better at embracing diverse perspectives, engendering trust, and harnessing the power of synergy.

Even if you have an unquestionably left-brain career — a financial analyst or biotechnical engineer, for example — you’re always better off when you can form kind, courteous, quality relationships with colleagues.

Let integrity be the cornerstone of all your interactions with clients and co-workers.

The Bottom Line

Growth opportunities are available for those willing to purposely and adeptly manage their own professional growth. As the old adage says,

“Half of life is showing up.”

The other half is sticking around so that when your boss is looking for someone to take on a more significant role, you are among the first who come to mind.

Remember, your career is your business!

More About Continuous Growth

Featured photo credit: Zach Lucero via unsplash.com

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