Here in the midwest, a hallmark of our otherwise wholesome and “nice” culture is our penchant for passive aggressiveness. Unhealthy. Undermining. And too often pushed off as some sort of “cute” aspect of who we are.
But trust me, passive aggressive behavior is anything, but cute. And when utilized by leaders, this trait has devastating effects.
Like most of the country, companies here have been hit hard by the economic times of the past several years. Growth has stalled. Profits have shrunk. Employees laid off…..Oh wait, that’s not what has happens, at least not if you ask some of the executives here locally.
Let’s take a closer look at this…..
A company is struggling. It’s lost roughly 25% of its value annually for the past several years. Yet, the leaders strive day in and day out to hide the reality of the plummet from employees. In fact, that’s where they spend a majority of their time and efforts, instead of rallying the troops around the “burning platform” and making the good decisions necessary to pull out of the dive. (The irony is that the employees do understand the dire straights of the organization, and the leadership misdirection only succeeds in driving trust downward. But I digress….)
Eventually, executives realize there is no way out. Significant changes are required.
(I’m tempted to insert “Duh!” but that might be perceived as passive aggressiveness…)
Expense ratios are out of whack, and operational efficiencies will only go so far. The logical next step is cutting payroll. (A secondary irony is that nearly all employees would acknowledge the company has run “fat” for years, yet leaders scurry around the idea like tap dancing in a minefield).
Now, what an opportunity for forthright and courageous leadership, right? Do they choose it? Nope, in a stunning example of midwestern avoidant behavior, executives refuse to acknowledge this as a corporate layoff….nope, 10% cut in workforce “primarily through attrition,” is the panicked response when the local news media catches wind of it.
And if it was truly through attrition, this would be fine. Unfortunately, dozens lose their positions, not through attrition, but through the carefully disguised ruse of restructures.
Even reduction through restructuring isn’t all bad, mind you. More telling are those who end up without a seat in the ill-conceived game of corporate musical chairs. Even a non-scientific scan of those employees tells a frightening tale, or it should, particularly to those looking for hope in the company’s future. Many of the best and brightest that company had to offer are now out on the streets…picking up the pieces of their lives, and yes, searching out competitors, who are gobbling them up quickly. Oops……
You see, midwestern passive aggressiveness has yet another dark outcome…it tends to produce paranoid delusions of grandeur and cowardly management, when allowed to surface. The talent shown the door….many of the most outspoken supporters of the organization, but those who did not allow their ingrained passive aggressiveness to show. Nope, they were direct. They addressed the failings of the organization and the risks to the company’s future. And because of their forthcoming (and constructive) criticism and desire for continuous improvement, they threatened the regime. After all, this talent wasn’t abiding by mis-message that leadership so desperately was trying to portray.
Sometimes organizations can be saved. Sometimes dreams should be protected. But if as leaders, we allow passive aggressiveness to take hold (or we merely write it off as “part of our culture”), then the only dream being protected is that of the organization’s (and its leaders’) pocketbooks.
That’s not a dream at all….but merely a manipulated nightmare, and definitely not something to protect.