Sunday, January 20, 2013

Instigator and Facilitator: the Emotional Distraught of a Mid-Level Manager

Among the intellectuals of the world, there has long been a consensus on the defining quality of individual success.  It is not measured by the amount of cash in one's bank account, the net worth of one's business, assets, and properties.  Instead, the key word is "power," the authority one has over other individuals and functioning of a community, and to a greater extent, society in general.  The ability to influence and to change the course of other's lives, in particular, can be seen an easy, albeit morally reprehensible, way to get one's hands on an almost unlimited flow of cash.

Placed in the context of one's immediate surroundings, the concept of power translates to seniority in ranks of existing hierarchy, whether it be in the personal spheres of extended family and kinship interactions, or more importantly for this author, the corporate environment spurred on by working in a global firm.  Without a doubt, a foreign manager in a business catering to local consumers would have certain responsibilities and obligations, including but not limited to, identifying basic strategies for steering other employees toward a goal that will be, essentially, profitable for the firm as a whole.

Of course, the sheer complexity of what that "steering of employees" would entail is the most baffling to anyone newly thrust into such a role.  Without prior experiences of similar kind, one would tend to think in lofty terms.  Focus on creating concrete initiatives that we make the goal more concretely achievable, identify how many people will be needed to execute each initiative, and what each of those people will do.  Then train the people to fulfill their defined roles and establish communication channels among them through implementing certain processes...and voila, the business is now running by itself.

...only if it were ever so straightforward.  People are not robots; they do not simply do what one wants them to do.  Number of people cannot be counted in just numbers; the effectiveness of a team does not depend only on how many people it has but also how the members interact (or not interact) with one another.  Often, the emotional aspect of managing people relations has more more significance to how the business turns out to be, compared to the dedication one puts into research effective strategies or implementing certain initiatives.

And it is here that one inevitably must exercise that coveted "power"...but often against the desire and the will of its possessor.  The manager can go about doing his fluffy business of encouraging bonding and friendship among employees as much as s/he wants, but at the end of the day, without possibility of incentives and threats of punishment, there are simply little or no incentive for anyone to change their existing behaviors and move away from the status quo.  Yet, those carrots and sticks may very well change the lives of the individuals involved, push some to honor and others to poverty.

Unfortunately, as its beholder grudgingly discovers over time, every concrete exercise of power is almost always accompanied by a duality of good and evil, bright and dark, positive and negative.  For every person promoted, others will have to be punished, and for every reprimanding, some others will inevitably cherish the opportunity for personal gains.  Such rocking of the boat in a booby-trapped environment of office politics, ridiculously enough, encourage more competition and more divisiveness even though the original purpose of using power is to somehow filter out obstacles for team-bonding.

Aside from the more emotionless autocrat out there, none with the slightest bit of access to power can overlook the collateral damage s/he has done and grimace at the futility of exercising power in the first place.  There is simply no enjoyment in being able to say that one can make others wealthy or, for practical purposes, dead to the society, when one realizes just how much emotional burden the user of the power, its recipient, and anyone else who bear witness or is indirectly affected by it must shoulder for a considerable time-being.  Every purge and praise echo endlessly in the psyche of all involved.

Power is used to instigate change, ideally for the better.  It is also supposedly used to facilitate operations of certain institutions by compelling people to do what they are told while ridding those who refuse to do so.  Yet in the process of molding everything for the better (or at least, so perceived by its user) it takes tolls on everyone, through sorrows of distrust, malicious happiness of one-upmanship, and indigence of perceived misunderstandings and miscommunications.  The mental toughness of actually resorting to direct exercise of power is something only a possessor can fully understand.

16 comments:

  1. I don't think there's an intellectual "consensus" that power is at the crux of individual success at all. Nor do I think these "carrots and sticks" you allude to are as life-changing in most companies. I'm sure being part of Rocket, the targets you have to achieve are pretty ambitious and the consequences of not reaching them are often severe, but not all businesses are like that! I refuse to believe that the wielding of power is as cutthroat as you're making it out to be!

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  2. Yeah, perhaps (and hopefully) you are right. But as far as I am concerned at the moment, this is what I am dealing with:

    (1) Employees are almost always on a contractual basis - 3-month temporary hire is the norm, and even 1-month hire is common. Employees are not told that their contracts are not renewed until the last day of their existing contracts...meaning job security is nonexistent and people go unemployed at very short notice.

    (2) Manual labor is abundant, cheap, and highly replaceable. Employment, as compared to total labor force, is scarce, while expenses are extremely high (compared to wage level) due to large families to take care of (high dependency ratio for each wage-earning worker) so there is enormous pressure to find a job and stay employed as long as possible.

    (3) Temp hire (nominally contracted from labor agency) and permanent hire (directly registered as employees under our company name) exist as two separate social classes. The temp hires are not at all respected by the permanent hires, and condescension is the normal treatment. I think this is partially cultural.

    Given these three conditions, the power to hire and fire is well, incredibly powerful. It can easily throw people into and back down to poverty...and of course, as normal human beings, we cannot possibly be emotionless in the wielding of such power...After all, we are dealing with people's livelihoods. The whole exercise cannot be taken lightly in anyway...

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  3. Respect is a choice or optional, regardless of the class. I don't agree that "the temp hires are not at all respected by the permanent hires."

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  4. respect is about perception, not reality. You can be respectful in reality, but if no one perceives it, then you are not being respectful. Thats the same with temp hires, I believe.

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  5. Sad to hear, but for me I still respect other people regardless of race, title or class. Or, as long as they respect me.

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  6. Strongly agree with this: For every person promoted, others will have to be punished, and for every reprimanding, some others will inevitably cherish the opportunity for personal gains.

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  7. Again, the important question is not whether you think you respect others, whether others think you respect others. It means absolutely nothing if you respect somebody 100% but no one else feels the presence of such respect. Perception of reality always trumps reality itself, always.

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  8. and the dual presence of such actions and their reactionary counter-elements is sad, to say the least.

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  9. Yeah, I'm sorry to hear it's like that. That does make the power-wielding you described far more momentous.

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  10. Its Rocket style, heh

    Speaking of which, Rocket is doing ventures (and hiring) in Nigeria. You want in on it? haha

    ReplyDelete
  11. Hi,

    Become a part of your friend's network.

    Xiaochen Su
    Invite sent: 12 February, 2013

    Continue

    notify-b2acf64e-6350-11e2-af14-00304834ba4a@disqus.net was invited to join SkillPages by Xiaochen Su. To stop receiving emails from SkillPages click here .
    © 2013 SkillPages, Blackrock Business Park, Dublin, Ireland and 228 Hamilton Avenue, 3rd Floor, Palo Alto, CA 94301.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Hi,

    Become a part of your friend's network.

    Xiaochen Su
    Invite sent: 12 February, 2013

    Continue

    notify-a7240fd2-6c7a-11e2-b56f-00304834ba4a@disqus.net was invited to join SkillPages by Xiaochen Su. To stop receiving emails from SkillPages click here .
    © 2013 SkillPages, Blackrock Business Park, Dublin, Ireland and 228 Hamilton Avenue, 3rd Floor, Palo Alto, CA 94301.

    ReplyDelete


  13. Hi,

    Unlock new opportunities for you and your contacts.


    Xiaochen Su

    Invite sent: 12 February, 2013

    Join me on SkillPages

    notify-a7240fd2-6c7a-11e2-b56f-00304834ba4a@disqus.net was invited to join SkillPages by Xiaochen Su. To stop receiving emails from SkillPages click here .

    © 2013 SkillPages, Blackrock Business Park, Dublin, Ireland and 228 Hamilton Avenue, 3rd Floor, Palo Alto, CA 94301.

    ReplyDelete


  14. Hi,

    Unlock new opportunities for you and your contacts.


    Xiaochen Su

    Invite sent: 12 February, 2013

    Join me on SkillPages

    notify-a7240fd2-6c7a-11e2-b56f-00304834ba4a@disqus.net was invited to join SkillPages by Xiaochen Su. To stop receiving emails from SkillPages click here .

    © 2013 SkillPages, Blackrock Business Park, Dublin, Ireland and 228 Hamilton Avenue, 3rd Floor, Palo Alto, CA 94301.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Haha, I love Africa but am ambivalent towards Nigeria and near hate Lagos. So unfortunately no my friend...

    ReplyDelete
  16. so, you planning to get out of there sometime soon? where is next?

    ReplyDelete