Some say, “You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.” There are always excuses for dysfunctional leadership.
A little slicing here. A little dicing there. A little arrogance and meanness thrown in…and somehow we think a productive work environment has been cooked up.
If you’re criticized at meetings, if your supervisor yells at you, if they claim credit for your accomplishments, or if they demean what you contribute, then— no surprise here— you’re not going to enjoy your work as much. (p. 101) So, why do mean bosses keep their jobs and why do their employees continue to serve them?
I heard recently the hurt of one individual who had worked for a “mean boss” sometime ago, but had gotten free through changes in the corporation structure. However, that same meanie is back in her life and she is struggling how it is going to turn out. Why don’t these bad-boys lose their jobs?
Mark Lipton, the author of Mean Men: The Perversion of America’s Self-Mad Man is a well considered book. Though I would not go along with all of his political and moral views, he has hit the nail on the head as he considers entrepreneurship and the rise of abusive bosses in America.
Lipton describes Peter Arnell, the legendary advertising impresario who helped shape brands such as Pepsi, Samsung, DKNY, and Bank of America. As Lipton noted, Arnell was the “boss from hell.” So, why was he not fired?
“He has this remarkable capacity to be both the most intoxicating character— lovable, brilliant, seductively intellectual...”
But, he would “then turn on a dime and be staggeringly cruel.”
Lipton also argues, “A controlling, abusive leadership style isn’t deeply hurtful to just people; mean men are also bad for the bottom line. A desperate need for control prevents collaboration and delegation, stifles creativity, and drives away the talented stars companies should want to hold on to. Mean destroys community and divides organizations and social groups.” (page 5)
Lipton went on to say it is the employer who inspires, creates trust, and empowers their subordinates who actually get productive results in the long-term.
But, Lipton notes that our culture, ironically, rewards mean. He points to research that has found, “Males considered ‘agreeable’ earn much less money than their tougher counterparts.” He went on to say, “Men who are kinder, more trusting, and more cooperative take a big pay cut while those who are more competitive, arrogant, and manipulative and who don’t value relationships snicker all the way to the bank.” (p. 13)
The Entrepreneurial Spirit
Lipton’s considers entrepreneurship in America as fundamental to this culture of mean. The entrepreneur has particular characteristics, according to researchers, and unfortunately, many of these traits lend themselves to abusive behaviors. He lists these traits as:
- Need for Achievement – “The need to achieve can be boiled down to a strong desire for success and realizing it through challenging situations.” (page 22)
- Drive – “They’re action-oriented, with a compelling need to make things happen and to make their vision real.” (page 23)
- Autonomy – “A familiar reason people strike out on their own is that they can’t stand working for others or depending on a team for results.” (page 24)
- Control – “many entrepreneurs are preoccupied with the need for power over others. This affects their ability to take direction or to give it properly, which in turn alters their aptitude for getting along with others.” (page 25)
- Internal Locus of Control – “Tough and unsentimental, they may see themselves as effective leaders because they coerce performance from subordinates…The fear of someone dominating them or infringing on their will often creates a sense of impotence.” (page 27)
- Impulsivity – “Impulsivity for the entrepreneur reflects a shortsighted fixation on immediate gratification that reaps collateral damage.“
- Suspicion of Others – “Entrepreneurs have a disproportionate tendency over the general population to distrust those in the world around them, and this can easily extend to those who work for them.” (page 28)
- Predisposition to Take Risks – “Some successful entrepreneurs get as far as they do because of their willingness to put everything on the line (and refusal to take credit for failure).” (page 29)
- Self-Confidence – “To get ahead, entrepreneurs must believe they can deal with the world, meet life’s challenges, overcome obstacles, and achieve the goals they set for themselves.” (page 29)
- Need for Approval – “These guys, you may think, probably don’t care what others think of them. But entrepreneurs often reveal a great need for admiration and applause and an overriding concern about being heard and recognized.” (page 30)
You must know someone like this. Research suggests that the independence of Americans (in particular) has grown in the past 100 years and that has given rise to larger numbers of entrepreneurs. We celebrate their drive for achievement, their vision of the future, and their ability to stare down the dangers of financial wreckage.
The personality traits listed above are not in themselves evil. In moderation.
It is the immoderate that creates a living hell in the workplace. There are many out there in both the secular marketplace and the Christian organization. Mission organizations are replete with controlling, arrogant leaders who have created (from their perspective) ministries from the dust and built them into expansive ministry machines.
Once the ministry has developed a loyal following and the coffers are filled with the church’s gifts, many of these entrepreneurs move from relational leaders to fundraising monsters who will do anything to stay afloat. After all, they built the house! They are entitled to all the attention and servitude they get.
We, as the body of Christ, need not be fooled by their charm and vision. We need to confront arrogant bullies and refuse leadership that brings dishonor to the name of Christ.
Quotations taken from: Mark Lipton. “Mean Men: The Perversion of America’s Self-Made Man.” Voussoir Press.