Business culture can be quite reductionist, favouring simple stereotypes. Anything that removes complexity and makes the modern large organisation easier to manage is embraced.
Stereotyping people is a common way to simplify the organisation for managers. For example we often see the use of a simple pair of stereotypes to influence debate around any issue. Someone in an effort to win an argument will type the participants in any debate into two camps:
- Managers: The sharp, rational, level-headed, pragmatic, outcome-focused, action-oriented realists
- Daydreamers: The fluffy, optimistic, utopian, enthusiastic, do-gooding, people-focused, passionate daydreamers
There is little surprise that in most businesses team 1 is the ‘right team’. These are the people who are trusted to ‘get the job done’ and ‘speak good sense’. These people have the interests of the corporation at heart and are management material. Labelling your opponent as part of team 2 can usually get you a long way towards winning any argument.
If you are an organisation change agent, you are going to find yourself lumped into team 2 often. To expand their influence in organisation, change agents need to learn to unpick these stereotypes.
These stereotypes play on the fact that many people believe that the passion and optimism of those advocating change are inconsistent with being disciplined and realistic. This does not have to be the case:
- Realism is now: Seeing things as they are is a challenge for today. Many organisations full of managers who fit the criteria in team 1 struggle to do this. Sometimes the sources of information, stakeholders and impacts considered are too narrow. Often they are beholden to management ideologies that distort perceptions. Risk aversion and other forms of conservatism may force them to resist or ignore the signals of required change. All managers, change agent or not, should aim to have a cold hard grip on the widest possible set of present facts.
- Optimism is tomorrow: Optimism is not inconsistent with realism because it does not describe today. Optimism is a hope for a better future. We can’t be realistic about the future, only optimistic or pessimistic. All managers should embrace hope because it is the only way to validate their potential to be the actor that brings about improvement. If you don’t have hope for your own influence, why are you there?
- Passion is the vehicle for action: Passion is what drives action. Passion is what builds trust and wins support of others. Passion should be the impetus for action and sustain it through all the challenges of making change happen. When balanced with realism, passion is an enormous force for connection and change.
Let’s help those seeking to bring about change to shift the debate from one between the fluffy no-hopers and the model managers. All parties in the debate needs to be realistic, optimistic and passionate. Only then will it be a fairer fight between the forces of change and the forces of conservatism.
The best change agents convince others because they demonstrate cold hard clarity as to the challenges and issues of today. They make change happen because of their passion and optimism for the future and because of their willingness to act. They do so because making change happen realises their potential and is the impact that they choose to have on the world
Tell me why that is not what every great manager does.