Friday, February 6, 2009

Battles between Somebodies and Nobodies: Combat Abuse of Rank at Work and at Home

Continuing with the "arrogance of power" theme, here's a guest post from Julie Ann Wambach, author of Battles between Somebodies and Nobodies: Combat Abuse of Rank at Work and at Home.

"Your position never gives you the right to command. It only imposes on you the duty of so living your life that others may receive your orders without being humiliated."
Dag Hammarskjöld, Secretary-General of the United Nations, 1953 to 1961.

Since he died forty years before the word was coined, we can assume Dag Hammarskjold never used the term rankism to describe the abuse of position within a hierarchy. From his statement above, we know he understood rankism. As in all human gatherings, companies depend on hierarchies to organize those involved so they can work together effectively. When individuals misuse their rank by creating a class of somebodies who are esteemed and another class of nobodies who are depreciated, employees become discouraged, angry, and less productive. Moreover, business suffers.

Here is another term. A leader who treats everyone, regardless of rank, with respect and insists others do the same is practicing right-rank. Whatever your leadership style, whatever your personality type, whatever your organizational goals, you can assure the persons you guide be treated with deference.

Here are some ways leaders achieve right-rank.

•Recognize rankism when you come across it--and be assured you will find rankism in your workplace. In his Jan. 28, blog on “Leadership Scruples,” Dan had two examples of rankism. If your manager knows someone is saying ugly things about her, she is the target of rankism. If a co-worker sends an anonymous love letter as a prank, that co-worker is a rankist. Rankism not only demeans the person who is targeted, it raises anxiety among employees who observe such practices. Who will be the next butt of ridicule, the next nobody?

•Listen to employees who describe incidents of rankism. Consider how much courage it takes to alert HR of activities that undermine oneself or a co-worker.

•Scrutinize dissatisfied employees to see if they are targets of rankism. Not everyone dares to speak up or has the vocabulary to depict rankist behavior.

•Know your own tendencies to rankism. As we have all been targets of rankism so we’ve all handed it out. Ask do I motivate others by intimidating them? Do I ignore difficult employees? Battles between Somebodies and Nobodies contains a Conflict Inventory so readers can learn how they respond in conflict situations. When pushed, we can all be one brand or another of rankist.

•Stop rankism wherever you find it. Of course, it is best to talk separately with the rankist(s) and secure a promise to stop the behavior. There are occasions when it is appropriate to forthrightly make public employee behavior that has been humiliating others.

•Model right-rank by treating everyone with courtesy and respect. If leaders practice right-rank, it will become part of the corporate culture.

Finally, be aware that in this economic downturn employee relations that once flourished will likely now strain. When workers ponder everyday will their job be eliminated, they may be more rankist. All the more reason for leaders to attend to their right-rank duties. And all the more opportunities for leaders to improve the workplace environment.


Tom Magness said...

Thanks Dan. As someone with "rank," this, along with your previous post on abuse of power, are important things to ponder. I'm not sure I like the word (rankism) but, I know I need to watch it in my own behavior as a leader. Thanks. Hooah! TM

Dan McCarthy said...

Tom -
Hey thanks, it's been a while since I've gotten a Hooah! from you. I agree, I'm not so sure about the terms either.

datarecovery said...

Listen to employees who describe incidents of rankism.