If you take any book on leadership and management or go to a conference you will hear a lot about team engagement, servant leadership, inspiring people with a vision, fostering their internal motivation as craftsmen and so on. This is what I’m advocating here as well. All of that – and more – is part of the New Wave of Management, and it is not only ethical, but also firmly based in experience and science. In other words: those methods are not only good – they work.
There is, though, a completely different approach to leadership and management out there in the world. It is based on exploiting people’s weaknesses rather than strengths, on controlling rather than trust, on fear rather than joy. That is the “Dark Side” of leadership.
And let’s admit it openly: it works too. You can build a pretty large business by bullying people, by exploiting their lack of self esteem and fear of unemployment, by preventing them from growing as persons and professionals throwing them away and replacing with new “resources” as needed.
I have seen o couple of companies built using the power of the Dark Side myself and I bet anyone who has more experience in the industry had too. They are usually centered on the money. Their only real goal is profit. There is no mission or vision beyond that – at best the founders/owners are doing it also for the pure fun of running a company and being in power.
Some may say that such approach can only bring a company to a certain point. And they would be right – the Dark Side companies are unable to create innovative, “insanely great” products or services. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t grow, make their owners rich and be around for a long time supplying mediocre products&services. True, the best talent will not stay there, but many unfortunate souls will spend their work lives in such environments.
The Dark Side is not taught in MBA classes, there are no blogs about it nor conferences where its gurus would share practices. But somehow it manages to be there in so many places – it doesn’t take a long search to find its practitioners. In my observation it is usually people who worked their whole life in such environments who gradually become like their bosses, and once they assume a position of power themselves they perpetuate the cycle.
They can sometimes hide behind nice slogans and even agile methods, but once you feel distrust and fear in the company culture you will know the Dark Side is there.
Why I’m writing this? Because I think we, the practitioners and evangelists of the New Wave of Management – or the Light Side if you will – should be open about one thing: the choice of leadership methods and ‘tricks’ is not purely pragmatic, based on their effectiveness. It is also an ethical choice, rooted in our beliefs and morals.
May the Force be with you!