Why is it we seem to allow behavior in executives that we won’t tolerate in first level managers?
I’m not saying that all executives behave poorly; I think the vast majority are excellent role models. But why then do I see the screamers, the plotters, the hard-asses, the dictators, the debasers and the inherent desire to weaken others, in much larger proportion at the higher levels of management than the lower levels? It reminded me of why I stopped playing competitive tennis many years ago.
When I started playing league tennis the people seemed to be so nice. I loved my team and the people I played against. However as I started climbing to higher levels it seemed that people got more nasty. Wait, they call it “being competitive”. As people got good at their game somehow it seemed to bring out the worst in them. Is that what happens in industry as well?
I don’t think so. I do think there is the competitive spirit involved but I think the difference is that tennis teams don’t have HR departments.
At the first level of management the pool of talent is far greater than at the top. Therefore if someone is not behaving well, it is much easier to coach them or remove them from the system.
At higher levels, though, there are fewer people willing to sacrifice the time and lifestyle required of the job. Their job is incredibly demanding and stressful and requires superhuman efforts to convert the internal pressures into good outward behavior. How is your behavior when you don’t get enough sleep and have the weight of the world on your shoulders? The pool is greatly reduced.
At higher levels of management if one can survive and demonstrate results they get promoted. At lower levels survival is much easier and time has not yet proven if they can consistently get the job done, so how they do their job is of greater concern.
HR departments focus on grooming fresh talent into strong leaders. They know that at this stage they have a very moldable person that is eager to learn and adapt. While they still work at trying to mold the executive levels, they know deep in their hearts that this is like teaching a pig to sing; if it ain’t singing now, it probably won’t.
Since HR departments become less effective at grooming at the top, it is up to the business to decide who gets promoted and who is successful. The determination of success at the first level is equal parts getting the job done (business) and how you get the job done (HR). As you move up, the equation becomes far more weighted in getting the job done.
The question I still cannot answer is whether these executives behaved the same at the first levels or did they acquire this talent?