HQ of the Council of the European Union, Justus Lipsius building, meeting room for working groups [detail] (2007) by Szilas. Via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Velvet Gloves & Iron Fists

Al Gorman Managing Leave a Comment

A post by Al Gorman

The managerial objective of every workplace is to create a supercharged environment where employees work in cooperation with each other, employing individual best effort, to deliver the outputs defined within the task assignments delegated by management to the employees. A little later we’ll explore the concept of Objectivisim…objective/ objectivism seems compatible doesn’t it? The reality is at times perhaps and at other times perhaps not.

Does the managerial leader who holds up the proposition that employees genuinely desire to be productive contributors at work have idealist blinders on? Or, does he or she have the pulse on the genuine objective of individuals in their employment relationship? Theory ‘X’ or theory ‘Y’? Inclusion or command and control?

The reality is one nor the other employed exclusively will deliver the goal. There appears to be a fine line between inclusion and input and ambiguity in authority, discretion, and accountability. Within the context of inclusiveness there appears to be a real need to clarify authority particularly where the objective of the employee differs from the business objectives of the organization. Somehow it almost seems impossible to maintain order within an organization absent discipline and the occasional assertion of defining who’s boss. In our postmodern management era we’d like to believe that there is no place for exercising command and control and that we can reason with employees at all times and expect the desired outcome. I’ve arrived at the conclusion that this is an illusion bound for disaster. The extent to which the conclusion applies has some relationship with the organizational culture and mutual trust that prevails within the workplace however to believe that discipline is no longer required in today’s workplace (or at home and in society) appears entirely misguided.

For example a supervisor was assigning a task to an employee this week (one that was safe to perform and one that the employee was qualified for in terms of skill and knowledge to execute.) when the employee indicated that he was not accepting the task assignment but rather was deciding on his own accord to execute another task of his own choosing and that the supervisor would need to call someone else in on overtime to have the desired task completed. Alas, our bewildered supervisor is in a bit of a dilemma isn’t he? And, what options does he currently have? He certainly can’t say alright suit yourself go on and do what you would like and I’ll call someone else in to do what I need executed. He does the only thing he can do and indicates “my loyal employee if you do not wish to execute the task I am assigning you you will need to go home and you will not be paid today.” Well now of course he’s heavy handed, he’s command and control, hard to get along with, short on people skills and so on. Absent asserting this approach, that might also be interpreted as an assertion of dominance he’s doomed. His employees will walk all over him. If he allows this one to get away with this unruly conduct he can expect two tomorrow and even the timid employee who wouldn’t dare denounce his assignment is confused because the world shouldn’t work this way.

Unfortunately, now and again one needs to put his or her foot down, fairly and respectfully of course however as one employee put it “in the real world the big dog needs to mark his territory.” I believe he’s correct. Sure some individuals give more than they take and we are entirely naive if we are believing that the honor of contributing to one’s employer and the team are objectives that each individual is endeared to. At some fundamental level we are all capitalists, and particularly the ever-present social minded trade unionist. In fact I recently decided that in today’s developed world the only real capitalists left are the trade union establishments; masters at laisser faire capitalism. The late philosopher Ayn Rand would be proud of these capitalists and the employee whom has placed his or her own wants and desires above all else for as she observed that’s the only way the world should work, promoting that all the bleeding heart socialists are only disabling the productive contribution of individuals in society. She’s called it “Objectivism” and there’s something in it, at least insofar as understanding why Joe or Mary appear to have their own interests ahead of the common good of the organization or the team.


Ayn Rand has asserted: “Man—every man—is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life. ”

A cynical view? Maybe! Yet there is definitely something substantial here. Today there is so much value placed on a harmonious workplace and the avoidance of conflict that we appear resigned to abdicating our fundamental accountabilities when push comes to shove and then complain that the “lunatics are running the asylum”. The simple fact is an inclusive and highly participative workplace is certainly desirable and authority is an essential ingredient to developing it. We all need to understand where the boundaries are and what the consequences are for moving outside of them. And, we do both the employee and the organization a disservice to allow a laisser faire attitude to prevail. If you’re plagued by that unruly employee put your foot down, crack the whip, and invoke severe and harsh punishment and the likely response from the general population is almost certain to be “It’s about time!”

Make no mistake to succeed one needs an iron fist inside that velvet glove!

Image credit: HQ of the Council of the European Union, Justus Lipsius building, meeting room for working groups [detail] (2007) by Szilas. Via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

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