UK: THE MANAGEMENT TODAY EDITORIAL - THE UNMENTIONABLES. - Human beings have a tendency to be ornery. It can be more easily indulged at work in proportion to how high up the ladder they are. There is, of course, no limit to the extent to which it may be

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Human beings have a tendency to be ornery. It can be more easily indulged at work in proportion to how high up the ladder they are. There is, of course, no limit to the extent to which it may be indulged if its possessor is right on top of the heap. But everybody has it, sometime.

It is controllable, ideally by self-discipline, but more often by the the deterrents imposed by authority. The armed forces perhaps deal with it best, having, by virtue of their structure, tight procedures, standards of discipline, and prescribed punishments for lapses which make human aberration containable.

Orneriness is frequently classified as temperament, to be expected in those engaged in callings which we bow to as creative. Temperament is, of course, not confined to the creative, some of whom may think that a constant manifestation of it indicates more talent than they actually have. It is a factor in daily working life - often the grit that brings machines to a halt or abrades company strategies into impotency.

Allowances are often made for it at the more creative levels of company activity, so long as the temperamental one is making a visible contribution to the common good. When the balance tips downwards towards the non-productive, then the temperamental one is likely to be headed for the exit.

But it is an extraordinary thing that in management, which has access to courses on almost everything that could enhance self-esteem or, at least, conceal personal insecurities, the inclination of individuals to behave in a contrary fashion and subvert the intentions of the higher powers is so frequently ignored: it is that which isn't talked about - the office politics, the inadequacies of communication, the simple irritations of life.

This is what Gerard Egan calls The Shadow Side (p30). It is a logical step for him to apply the skills he has acquired in preparing counsellors for one-to-one encounters with people in travail to the world of industry and big business. (He is the author of the best-selling textbook, The Skilled Helper).

He is perhaps successful in reaching the parts others of good intent might not reach because he relates this shadow side to cost. That, of course, is the beady-eyed concern of all managers these days. It should not, though - if we are to have a future - be at the expense of growth through innovation and the liberation of people's potential to contribute to the creation of wealth. Recognising the shadow side, and managing it to the benefit of the bottom line, is Egan's platform.

It may be that there is no time like the present for it. There is no doubt that the global, political and economic portents indicate increasing and radical change in how people relate to work, how they cope with the disappearance of old certainties such as continued employment, and with the necessity of continually acquiring new skills. These are the concerns which still preoccupy people - and that means managers too - after they have digested the fanfares of mission statements or listened to the propounding of voguish management philosophies in which they perceive the smoke signals of more redundancies. Such worries remain with them at work and at home. And for managers themselves, worries have increased with the burden of more work, more demand for wider skills, and less security as de-layering grows apace. The shadows perhaps have never been longer. It is time surely for that which hasn't been talked about to be considered - and dealt with.

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