February 23, 2012

Work Ethic

Note: These are noodlings for a series of essays I have been thinking about writing but may never get around to. My own private slush pile.

We are a composite of the self-images we have of ourselves in the various roles we play in life. At work we see ourselves as workers, supervisors, managers, or leaders.  For the sake of argument, I define a worker as one who is directed to do certain tasks. The supervisor is responsible for giving those directions and seeing to it that they are carried out. Managers decide what those activities will be and how they will be done. Leaders ... well, they make you want to push that big rock up the steep hill.

The key point I would like to make here is that what we see when we look at the mirror of our souls may not be the actual job we hold. How many times have you had a supervisor who wants to do everything himself? How many times have you had a manager who spends most of his time supervisor and not enough time managing? How many times have you ever worked with or for a leader?

 These mismatches between self-image and actual responsibilities are commonplace. The reason they are common is that change ain't easy. We reach a comfort level and are reluctant to leave it. And most workplaces exacerbate the problem by rewarding advancement more highly than consistent, reliable, long-term service at a particular level. 

You want to get ahead? Then you have to move up the ladder. Management sets the rules, and the first rule is that they are more valuable than anyone else. From there, the shit just rolls down hill. So if you have people who are great at what they do and are making a solid contribution, instead of keeping them where they are and rewarding them for their hard work, they have only one option if they want to make significantly more money, which is to accept a role they don't see themselves as belonging in.

That's a recipe for a lot of unhappy workers and supervisors and managers. It's a heckuva way to run a railroad, if you ask me.

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