As anyone who has ever worked under a manager knows, “Don’t poke the bear!” is pretty smart advice. In fact, learning to gauge your manager’s moods, likes and dislikes, bio-rhythms and neuroses, is an essential skill to develop in the workplace.
My question is, what makes the manager a bear in the first place?
Is it nature or nurture that make so many at work so ready to attack at the slightest provocation? Is this just how we are, or how we’ve made ourselves become?
Cock-eyed optimist that I am, I think it’s the latter. It’s predominantly a mode of our own making. We’ve created environments that have encouraged us to be that way. And, worst of all, we’re still struggling to see how much of a problem that is.
Even for those with the genetic propensity to be a workplace warrior, it’s still only a trigger that waits to be activated. We can be taught to find ways to hold off pulling the trigger. Does any child sit there and dream that one day they’ll be able to boss people around and make their lives miserable for no apparent or meaningful reason? I doubt it.
It’s not the bear’s fault.
Not really. But our inability to tame our bears costs us a lot. People join companies, but they leave bad managers. People have potential, but, if that’s not harnessed by their current bear, it either stagnates or slips away.
So what should we do? Have a bear cull? Walk softly, and carry big sticks, to work? Actually, I think we need to look elsewhere.
It’s no good attacking the bears, they’ve been taught to believe this is the way to be. What we should be attacking, what we should be tearing down, are the cages we’ve made for ourselves. The constructs we have put around work that are dehumanising us, diminishing us and, ultimately, damaging us.
We need to attack the conventions, the dogma that constrains us. At the same time, we need to show that, out of the cage, you can still be commercial, you can still bring back the goods.
The big beasts of business, of government, are still building cages designed for another age. It’s time they woke up.
Hitting them head on doesn’t tend to get us anywhere. But, if we poke the cage itself, rattle it a little, maybe we can get their attention and then, gently, calmly, persuade them, show them, there might be a better life to live outside the cage if they can just take a few steps towards the door.
We can help them open it. With a bit of creativity, a bit of imagination. And by reminding ourselves, and reminding them, we are human beings from the planet Earth, not algorithms to be deciphered or cogs to be turned.
It’s the systems, the stifling structures, the lack of bend, we need to attack; the lack of imagination, of true innovation. Not each other. We’re only human, after all.