Think back to the worst boss you ever had or ever observed. Maybe one stands out immediately. Or, maybe you had two so it’s hard to say which was worse. If you have been very lucky and had reasonable bosses throughout your life, then, maybe you can think back to a very nasty teacher. In either case, I’m hoping you can think of someone who was not only strict, but pig-headed, arbitrary, unfair, and liked to demean employees (or students) in front of everyone. Not only that, they would take credit for the work of others and blame others when they had actually made the mistake themselves.
These are the sorts of people who practice the Anti-Patterns that I’ve been writing about lately. And it occurs to me that most people have had some experience with something similar to fascism in its mildest form: having an “intolerable” boss or teacher. It’s a very mild cousin, but it is a cousin.
The major difference is that if you have a horrible boss: a bully, a liar, a person who uses their position to hide their incompetence and blame it on others, it bothers you at work and you may lie awake thinking about it, but you do have other things in your life. You don’t have to have it affect your personal life; it doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t have fun playing a sport or dancing or singing. But actually living under fascism is a 24×7 business. Your bosses now are in charge of everything in your life that they want to bother with being in charge of. In the post below, I describe another one of the Anti-Life Anti-Patterns that they will tend to use: Taking Credit and Spreading Blame.
Taking Credit and Spreading Blame.
The basic idea of this Anti-Pattern is simple. The “boss” controls information into and out of their group. They are in a position to present the work of the group to higher management. The workers under the boss, in some corporate cultures will have little recourse when they are mistreated or their actions are misrepresented. If someone comes up with a good idea, for example, it may be ridiculed by a boss who knows less. Let’s say, for instance, a member of a research group at a camera/film company comes up with the idea of an electronic camera, the boss may well call the idea ridiculous. If it later turns out that the camera/film company goes out of business due to competition from electronic camera companies, the boss who originally pooh-poohed the idea will now claim that they were all in favor but that they had asked the employee who originally thought of it to look into it. That employee had come back with such a negative assessment of the market, that they had all convinced the boss not to pursue it. This is an example of “Spreading the Blame.”
On the other hand, if the boss had decided to pursue it and it had made the company successful, that kind of boss would lead everyone to believe that it had been their idea all along. They might even go so far as to discredit, transfer, or fire the employee who had actually thought of it. One might be tempted to think the “truth would out” and it might, but the boss has more control over how the group and the individuals within it are perceived than the employees do.
In an organization without any form of checks and balances, a tyrannical boss may gain a stellar reputation among higher management by the use of this tactic. This may result in promotions and an ever-expanding scope of power with which to ruin people’s lives. If you can convince the people above you that you never make a mistake yourself because you convincingly blame others; and you manage to take credit for everything that happens in your organization (and possibly even credit for some of what happens even in neighboring organizations) then you will gain more control over the information flow.
Ultimately, the efficiency and effectiveness of the organization suffers when Anti-Patterns such as Taking Credit and Spreading Blame are employed. People will begin to see little reason to work hard or imaginatively since the boss will take the credit. People who gain pleasure from friendly and collegial interactions will work somewhere else if they possibly can. Similarly, people who are primarily motivated at work by the work itself and doing it well will tend not to thrive under such a boss and will also go work somewhere else as soon as the opportunity arises. However, people who like to be told what to do, and enjoy power themselves, might collaborate with a boss who uses Anti-Patterns because the employee may feel as though helping the boss is the best way to open a promotion for themselves as well.
What “Anti-Patterns” have you observed in a boss, petty bureaucrat, teacher?