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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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Published on October 8, 2019

How to Advance Your Career (and the Big Mistakes You May be Making)

How to Advance Your Career (and the Big Mistakes You May be Making)

The late writer William S. Burroughs once said that “When you stop growing, you start dying.” It might have a morbid undertone, but it’s one hundred percent true in terms of one’s career.

The days of finding a job with one company that you can stick with for 30 years, and simply relax as you move up its company escalator are few and far between in today’s world. This isn’t necessarily bad news. On the contrary, it means that you’re the one in charge of shaping your career advancement.

By putting these principles and behaviors into practice, you’ll begin to see how to advance your career quickly. Ready? Let’s get started…

1. Define What Success Is for You

There’s no right or wrong definition of what success in your career looks like. The important thing is to figure out what success looks like for YOU. It might, and probably will, change along the way, but if you don’t have some sort of milestone on the horizon, then you won’t know which direction to go in.

Think about success in your career in terms of one year, five years, and 10 years. Once you have that, it’s time to lace up your boots and get to work.

2. Learn How to Develop and Follow a Plan

Nobody just stumbles upon success accidentally. Sure, they may stumble upon breakthroughs or new methods accidentally, but all success stories have one thing in common — a plan.

Establish a timeline for the things that you want to achieve in your career in the next year, five years, 10 years, and so on. Consider the skills that you’ll need to learn to make these things happen and work on acquiring them.

3. Surround Yourself With Those Better Than You

It’s a rule of thumb among musicians that if you want to get better, then you need to get out of the bedroom and play with people who are better than you.

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By surrounding yourself with people who are better than you and where you want to be, you’ll not only see how these people climbed to where they are in their respective fields, but you’ll learn from them and naturally want to push yourself to be better in your own job as well.

4. Seek Out a Mentor(s)

A mentor will not only be able to help you refine and reach your career goals, but will be invaluable in landing promotions and finding unadvertised job openings.

One unique approach is to work on fostering a relationship with a mentor both within and outside of your company. This will help in giving you different perspectives as you rise up through the ranks in your company and career overall.

5. Stop Wasting Your Mornings

You may not think you’re a morning person, but if you can learn to be one, you’ll thank yourself 10 years down the road.

Prepare a to-do list of tasks that you want to accomplish the day before and work on knocking them out for at least one hour before you respond to morning emails. The problem with responding to emails first, is you’re giving your attention to somebody else’s agenda, instead of plotting your own course for the day.

6. Arrange or Attend a Networking Party

If you’re attending networking events simply because you might get a few free drinks, you’re doing them wrong. These events are great for meeting new people and forming relationships. Your goal shouldn’t be to get hired by the end of the night, but to simply make a good impression by being friendly and authentic. So what’s next?

Reach out a few days later via email or on social media to follow up and connect!

7. Pick Up Some New Skills

Nobody wants to be the old dog that can’t learn any new tricks. To move up in your career, you’re going to likely need to pick up new skills along the way. Maybe your company offers on-the-job training or you have the option of taking online classes at night.

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By learning new skills, you’ll not only be able to expand upon what you can already do, but you’ll make yourself more valuable to your employer and future employers.

8. Exploit the Benefits Already at Your Disposal

Remember what we just said about the possibility of your company providing on-the-job training? Take advantage of these sorts of benefits!

If you’re working for a company that allows you to job shadow other employees or has company mixers, you should attend these. They not only allow you to develop your skills within the company, but show seasoned executives within your field that you’re interested in more than just clocking in for a paycheck.

9. Make Yourself Indispensable

Good help is hard to find and employers want to retain outstanding employees. If you can learn to make yourself indispensable to your company, you’ll not only communicate that you’re successful, but will have a lot more job security. What’s this entail though?

It’s actually not all that difficult. By being reliable, adapting to new challenges, and holding your own work and performance to a high standard, you’ll stand out among your peers and others will take notice. Easy enough, right?

10. Get Off the Fence

People who advance in their careers are those who don’t shy away from voicing their opinion and stand up with authority when the opportunity arises.

If a problem arises in your company and you think you might have a solution or are willing to work to find one, then let others know. Employers value and promote problem solvers. Start off with something small and work your way up towards tackling more difficult tasks and projects.

11. Don’t Wait for More Responsibility, Ask for It

If you want more responsibility in your job, then be open about it with your manager. Your manager may be so busy with their own work that they weren’t aware you were looking for more challenges.

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Just make sure you can handle it and that you already show strong performance in your current duties. And if your manager doesn’t seem supportive about offering you more responsibility, well, then it could be time to look for new employment.

12. Stop Wasting Time on What You Don’t Want

If your career goals start with “I should do this…” there could be a problem. This kind of language in referring to goals can doom them to failure because the want isn’t there.

Consider using the RUMBA method (Reasonable, Understandable, Measurable, Behavioral and Agreed) when setting your goals. That “agreed” part should really be “want.” By going after career goals that you actually want to accomplish, you’re much more likely to achieve them.

13. Seek Out Feedback and Apply It

Simply doing your job might not always push you up in your career advancement. Too often, employees just assume that their bosses will notice their performance strides and reach out when the time is right to advance.

Don’t be afraid to regularly seek out feedback and ask for constructive criticism. It not only shows that you value your manager’s opinion but demonstrates that you care about your job and want to become better in your chosen field.

14. Pick Your Bosses Wisely

Advancing in your career can move a lot quicker if you’re working for the right people. If your boss isn’t any good at their job or doesn’t value you, then moving up could become difficult.

A great boss though, will be able to help you capitalize on your strengths and be an advocate for your success. If there aren’t any strong developers of talent in your management chain already, then look around for some and seek them out as mentors.

15. Learn to Develop Your Sense of Timing

The odds of asking for a promotion or raise are in your favor with over 70 percent of respondents to a survey from PayScale reporting some success. One thing to keep in mind that can make all the difference is when you ask.

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Some corporate cultures may prefer that employees reach out about advancement during their annual review, but maybe you work for a more free-spirited startup. The best approach may be to take note of when others advance and ask about how the organization handles employee development.

16. Work Hard and Promote Yourself

Working hard and delivering a solid job performance are the keys to advancing in your career no matter what field you’re in. This doesn’t mean you need to be completely humble about your accomplishments either.

Keep a record of your positive impact within the organization and let others both within your company and your field know that you’re enthusiastic about your role and work.

17. Don’t Just Build Your Network… Cultivate It

It’s way too easy to add new people to your LinkedIn network and then forget about them for all eternity. Rather than just collecting business cards or social media contacts, you should be cultivating relationships with the ones you already have.

Follow up with people that you haven’t spoken to in a while, offer to connect them with somebody you know in their field, or ask about a new job title they may have taken on. Doing so could be the spark that leads to a potential job referral.

18. Join a Professional Organization

The National Association of (insert your industry here) and other professional organizations can still offer a great wealth of advantages from networking to industry insights, and skill development.

Even outside of professional organizations dedicated to particular job fields, civic organizations can also be fantastic for making new contacts. After all, so much about career advancement is who you know, and you never know who you’ll meet who knows somebody else who is looking for someone with your skills and experience.

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Featured photo credit: JESHOOTS.COM via unsplash.com

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