The corporate way is to hide, pretty much everything. Managers hide their reasons “why” simply because they can. HR hides behind “precedent” and hundreds (or thousands) of made-up rules and “policies.” Executives hide themselves physically in sequestered offices and behind thick mahogany doors. And companies especially feel the need to hide financials because it gives their top execs the freedom to keep doing just moderately unscrupulous things — not big illegal things (usually), just things that would strike the normal person as kind of… gross, if they were ever to stop and look.
Let’s be honest: we ALL know a great many things people “at the top” of our organizations do would instantly fail the “kindergarten test,” if we just asked ourselves “Would I be ok with my kids acting this way?”
Um, no. I would not.
But what we often miss is this isn’t just about individuals “behaving badly.”
All this is also the natural output of fiat hierarchy — complicated and opaque systems that permit and somewhat encourage people “in power” to act out of self-interest instead of in the interest of the group… and to hide what they’re doing.
And this next part is important.
This isn’t a broken system — this is the system working perfectly, exactly as it’s been designed to.
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You see, the more ladder I climb, the ever more slightly-drunk I get on my own newfound power. It’s almost never enough to make me totally drunk — we humans acclimate pretty quickly — but is just enough corporate alcohol to make me want to swing my power around just a tiny bit more than I used to… test it out, see if I can actually get away with it.
And the answer is usually, “I can!” because an “extra rung up” just gave me permission to act a tiny bit more like an asshole.
In this way, the modern organization creates a perfect petri dish for growing “perpetual toddler syndrome” — where most of a “top” person’s job is about testing limits, purely to see what they can get away with. (Sounds like a child, right?)
And the system rewards this behavior.
The higher I go in a fiat hierarchy the less I have to show anyone, just… because. And even for really, truly good people, that kind of power is hard to resist — especially when it’s completely normal and legal for a leader to hide almost anything they want to hide behind that supremely old-school parenting answer, “Because I said so.”
(In an organization, this is so implicitly understood it rarely even needs to be spoken out loud.)
Leaders at the top of a fiat hierarchy can almost unilaterally do whatever the hell they want and everyone will line up behind them, rank and file, like good soldiers, simply because it’s how we’ve been trained to respond. Ours is not to question why, but simply to obey. “Top” people are required to justify virtually nothing, and we’ve been conditioned to believe this is both normal and ok.
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So this is what’s really hard about fundamentally changing the way we work.
It requires our leaders to become better leaders — bigger leaders — who somehow find a way to NOT care about the ladder climb, even though they’ve been told their whole lives that is what matters most.
It’s about a leader choosing to use their hierarchal power to do something rather unfathomable: start to strip away the very layers of complexity that give them unfettered power and privilege, and instead create systems that are fair and transparent.
It’s about leaders becoming people who are emotionally mature enough to respond instead of react, who can actually pause before speaking, and who will think before acting.