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OUR CONTEMPT FOR AUTHORITY

Posted by Tim Bryce on July 8, 2015

BRYCE ON LIFE

– Why do we dislike our leaders?

(Click for AUDIO VERSION)
To use this segment in a Radio broadcast or Podcast, send TIM a request.

If you watch television news, you no doubt have recently seen numerous examples of contempt for authority, be it in the streets of Baltimore and Ferguson, our distrust of politicians, as well as in business. We also show contempt in the nonprofit organizations we participate in, be it homeowner associations, clubs, the coaches, umpires and referees in youth sports, even God and religion. It would be hard for me to think of an institution not undergoing criticism of some kind and it seems we are about to boil over at any second.

I tend to believe a lot of this is due to living in a heterogeneous society mixing different religions, races, and cultures. We are also taught to value individuality over teamwork, and not to respect our elders, particularly teachers. This is the opposite of countries like Japan, which is a homogeneous society embracing cooperation. We can also blame declining moral values and common courtesy for our sense of contempt.

When it comes to government, our country is split along ideological lines, which explains why there are low approval ratings for our Congress and President. I trace our contempt in the modern era back to President Lyndon Johnson and the Viet Nam War, a difficult war that was not supported by the American people. Then there was Richard Nixon and Watergate, an ugly affair where the president made some mistakes and was hounded out of office by the media. Prior to this, we respected the office even if the president didn’t belong to our party. Sure, we often disagreed with a president’s position or policy, but there weren’t the visceral attacks like we have today.

Our elected officials are so berated they are now showing signs of contempt for American voters, thereby taking them for granted and only approaching them at election time for money and votes.

Today, black rioters show little respect for the rule of law, claiming instead to be victims of slavery and inequality. Whites scratch their heads in bewilderment. According to today’s standards, a person is presumed guilty until proven innocent in the court of public opinion.

In business, workers look at managers with disdain, thanks in large part to micromanagement. Likewise, nonprofits suffer from leaders on an ego trip as opposed to solving real problems.

When you consider our contempt for authority, we are basically saying to our superiors, “You haven’t got your act together.” It is difficult to respect an authority figure if they cannot demonstrate leadership of any kind, be it your boss or government officials. People have become so frustrated, they seek to undermine them at any chance they get, such as what we witnessed in Baltimore.

Some institutions do not permit contempt, as in the military, where the chain-of-command must be maintained otherwise anarchy and mutiny will ensue, and lives will be lost. Interestingly, in the military, they are taught the duties and responsibilities of the next officer in charge. This is done in the event a superior officer is killed or incapacitated, thereby the next person in line must be put in charge without losing momentum. This is also done in other parts of the government, but not so much in nonprofits or business. As an aside, the earmark of a good leader is to prepare his subordinates to succeed him in the event of a calamity. Failure to do so is an expression of contempt for your subordinates.

Whether you are the boss, a government official, a member of the clergy, or whatever authority figure you can pronounce, it is simply a matter of leadership. In this country, it is our Achilles’ heel. I believe the American people are desperate for true leadership and are frustrated one cannot be found in our government, not just now but in the foreseeable future. Maybe such people no longer exist, which would be a tragedy.

It is not easy being the leader, particularly in an institution where the person is not properly trained. Quite often people rise above their level of competency, aka “The Peter Principle,” making them ineffective as a leader. Companies who do not properly train their managers in leadership are simply inviting contempt to flourish among their workers.

There are several facets to leadership, but in a nutshell, a leader must be fair, determined, know how to motivate their subordinates, work with people, and above all else, demonstrate they know what they are doing. Unfortunately, we see little of this in today’s world which explains why contempt is so prevalent.

Think about it, is this why we no longer trust our government? Or why we loathe the boss, or all the other people in a position of authority, even youth sports? Isn’t it a matter of people failing to demonstrate they know what they are doing? Anytime you see a budget running in the red, if we cannot live within our means, people feeling ignored or in need, or the affairs of our enterprises are not being properly managed, these are all indicators of ineffective leaders, and an expression of contempt.

However, let’s hold those people in contempt who truly deserve it, not just because of misinformation and lies.

It’s not a matter of answering a single question right or wrong, but a leader’s overall body of work in the aggregate that is of importance. After all, we all make mistakes and do not agree on every decision or policy, large or small. We must find those people who are, as Theodore Roosevelt said, “actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes up short again and again; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails Daring Greatly so that his place shall never be with those timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.”

If we can find such people, I believe we will lose our sense of contempt.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:  timbryce.com

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Copyright © 2015 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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9 Responses to “OUR CONTEMPT FOR AUTHORITY”

  1. Tim Bryce said

    A D.T. of Boca Raton, Florida wrote…

    “I could simply say that Americans hate their political leaders for the same reason they’ve always hated politicians…most are liars, crooks and thieves. As to liars, look at the White House or to most who would like occupy it.”

    Like

  2. Tim Bryce said

    An S.M. of Mountain Home, Idaho wrote…

    “Excellent article. Our American society began with rebellious attitude prompted by a need to see justice. The same is evident today, but the difference is the values we are taught. Our founding fathers were, for the most part, on the same page in their values. The values taught today differ greatly and that is why real war in America is a culture war.”

    Like

  3. Tim Bryce said

    A B.H. of Boulder, Colorado wrote…

    “I liked the recent posting on contempt for authority. In it, you mention the military’s penchant for making sure you are trained to take the next higher spot in the chain of command. In fact, one of the things we were taught in Navy OCS was that your FIRST task when you report to a new duty station is to learn your job (and you are usually expected to do that within the first two weeks). The second task is to train your relief to take over your job.

    With that in mind, I’d like to share a short story about my first experience in industry after I retired from the navy.

    I was hired on at Ball Aerospace in Boulder as a Principal Systems Engineer. I was working on a small spacecraft project as an assistant Program Manager – my first assignment. The PM asked me to cut a purchase request for a $1000 IBM-PC clone computer to be used as GSE (Ground Support Equipment) for the satellite system we were building. Now, remember, this was in 1989 – so the pricetag wasn’t all that unreasonable for a basic clone microcomputer. Anyway, there was a deadline for us to get the computer, program it, and integrate it into the overall system…so basically I had a week to get the PR made up, into the system, and get a rush delivery on the computer to meet all the other deadlines.

    So, I filled out the form, did all the due diligence and background research to get what we needed within the price guidelines set by the PM. Ball Aerospace at that time had an internal requirement that ALL purchase requests for computers MUST be signed by the division president. OK, so I truck over to the President’s office and ask his secretary to see him. Turns out, he’s on travel in DC and won’t be back in town for TWO WEEKS! Oops. I have to have all this done in ONE week. So, I thank her, and then I dutifully walk over to the VICE-PRESIDENT’S office and see him. I explain the situation to him, ask him to sign the PR, and he does.

    I take the now signed PR over to purchasing for an expedited buy. I meet this young person who handles all the incoming PRs. Now, in Civil Service, we would call this person a GS-1 or maybe a GS-2 (entry level). The guy looks over the PR and says “this isn’t the President’s signature.” I respond that I know that, but the president is out of town, won’t be back for 2 weeks, and we need to have the computer in hand in ONE week. The clerk says, “I don’t care. I can’t send this out for purchase until the PRESIDENT signs it.” I tell him that’s not going to happen and ask him what I can do to get this moving. He tells me that the only thing I can do to over-ride the company policy is to take it to the Senior Group VICE-PRESIDENT – about 10 miles away in Broomfield. So, I dutifully drive over to that office complex, walk into the GVP office and ask his secretary if I can see him. I see Dr. Herring and explain the situation to him, and he signs the PR (took all of about 4-5 minutes). I go back to the purchasing clerk, give him the PR, and he sends it over to the proper desk for purchase (and the upshot is that we DID get the machine on time and integrate it successfully into the GSE).

    BUT…the lesson I learned was that instead of going to the next position DOWN in the organization for things like this, you had to go to the next position UP. Why? Because, the purchase was considered a “hit” on the bottom line, therefore a “profit/loss” decision for an executive, and you didn’t let that flow down, you had to let it flow up.

    Now, for a multimillion dollar program, for which the PM was responsible to the president (and thus the group VP), you would think that the PM would have the final authority to send out a purchase request for a $1000 item. After all, I can tell you that there were many more individual items worth a lot more money that the PM had responsibility and authority to authorize for purchase. So, WHY was this such a big deal for a microcomputer?

    Well, it turns out that the policy was made by that same Group VP, BECAUSE (in 1989) he believed that the only reason engineers wanted microcomputers was to play games. And, thus, he was going to control the purchase of them, regardless of the reason for the purchase.

    At that time, Ball Aerospace had approximately 1 microcomputer for every 10-12 engineers on the campus. Industry wide in our field, the normal number was 1 microcomputer for every 2-3 engineers. The GVP commissioned a study by a protege of his, to assess the situation, believing that the end result would confirm that Ball was indeed at the forefront of microcomputer penetration and use for engineering. When the study came back challenging that view, he simply ignored it as being biased.

    Eventually, it turned out there were some “social” problems with the GVP and he was “retired” gracefully and replaced. At that point, Ball began to embrace the fact that engineers could really do their work faster and more efficiently if you spent a little money on modern TOOLS to make that happen.

    I learned a valuable lesson that day – I NEVER EVER went down the chain of command at a company again. Always UP. But, what a waste of time for upper management to have to deal with those minutiae. Either you trust your subordinates to actually DO their jobs, or you don’t. If you don’t, fire them. If you do, let them do the job without micromanaging them. Hold them ACCOUNTABLE for the performance of the job. After all, that’s why you hired them, isn’t it?”

    Like

  4. Kit News said

    Hey Tim Bryce! Are you up for some KIT airtime? Would you be available and interested in a 6:15 0r 6:45 PACIFIC Time tomorrow 7-9-15 to discuss your article on
    Contempt for Authority? Hope so, let us know! Thanks.–Dave

    Like

  5. That TR quote is on the wall at the Museum of Natural History in New York. I’ve read it many times. You make a lot of excellent points and you do go back to where this began with LBJ. Both Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy had very high approval ratings, so much so that most Americans approved of both of them. Even though they came from different parties. I doubt we could find a measurable number of Americans that approve of the last two Presidents.

    Like

  6. Tim Bryce said

    A J.D. of Tampa, Florida wrote…

    “Society used to establish norms. Now we are no longer able to judge. Over time norms breaking down destroys our respect for authority.”

    Like

  7. Wayne Brown said

    Two things come to mind as I read this piece. In the first place, our education system is no longer teaching in a fashion which highlights any of the areas necessary to understand the importance of being a contributing teammember, etc. At the same time, those who rise to the level of the title leader have had a similar experience thus they may not be prepared for their role–the blind leading the blind per se. As I was departing the corporate world for my retirement a couple of year ago, I noted that my company has declare “Manager” as a career discipline and established a “school” for the purpose of carrying out that discipline. All that sounds good on the surface but in the end, the whole thing was about standardizing the traits, personality, and behavior of a manager–a utopia idea which only makes the guy look like a robot delivering a tape recorded message. The effect on the employee is ultimately negative. As a manager, I looked the job through my own experiences as an employee and what I expected from a manager. Having had some great managers and some very lousy ones, it soon dawned on me that the two most important characteristics of a good manager are consistency and predictability. If those are present, most employees will find a comfort level which allows them to evolve the respect for the work of the manager. Contempt is then kept to a minimum. But as we managers all soon realize, 80% of the problems are caused by 20% of the people and that is where contempt does dwell. It is not only true in business but in society as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. […] OUR CONTEMPT FOR AUTHORITY […]

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