When I was just a kid I remember the fun we had giggling “Moo!” whenever our teacher herded us together to head for recess or for a class outing. Years later, during Army Basic Training, us bigger kids got a charge out of yelling “Moo!” whenever the drill sergeants crammed us into what we called “cattle cars” for the drive to the firing range, bivouacs or to the mess hall.
We were the herd, the squiggle of arms, legs and heads all pressed together into a single unit. We weren’t considered individuals, and weren’t treated as such. But this groupthink unit of ours built camaraderie, a comfort zone for each person as a part of that unit. All for one and one for all.
Chances are that you’ve had similar experiences, whether you shouted “Moo!” or not.
This was a time and place when conformity paid dividends, taught us the value of the group, as well as the safety of having numbers behind you. Individual thinking wasn’t a prized commodity back then. I realize now that such experiences don’t help you to become, well, you. The group focus suppresses the individual personality.
And here we are today. As a manager within your organization, as someone responsible for employees who report to you, as someone expected and required to make decisions that impact others, your world has indeed changed. Your previous comfort source of the groupthink, that safety blanket for your personal needs, should by now have been relegated – like old photos and distant memories – to a time and person that you no longer resemble.
Or I should say, that you shouldn’t resemble.
Follow the leader
Another game from my childhood was “follow the leader,” where in essence, each of us did whatever the leader said or did. The first one to miss a step was “out.” Now, look around you. Look at the personalities of your leadership. Look at yourself in the mirror. Is that game still being played?
At any age, playing “follow the leader” is considered an easy and safe practice, even for today’s managers. Because we still like to stay in a crowd for safety. Because nobody seems to admire the Lone Ranger these days. Instead of being viewed as a visionary or a fellow with core beliefs and a stand-your-ground-type, this renegade is more likely tagged as an eccentric who is out-of-touch with common business operating practices. Marching to the beat of a different drummer makes for a great comic poster, but all too often isn’t considered a career-enhancing move.
So what does this tell us about a related and all too prevalent management style? Conformity is in, and while singularity isn’t exactly out, that outlier mindset certainly faces a series of obstacles. Because let’s face it, it’s hard to criticize someone for repeating what everyone else is saying. But it’s a lot easier to look sideways at an opinion that differs from the common thread.
While the “yes man” mentality is often the butt of office jokes, the sarcastic humor is that it’s all too real – too commonplace in a consensus style management structure. We’ve all seen plenty of examples of supposed leaders tripping over themselves to agree with the big boss.
Managers who have been around the block a few times will tell you that he who sticks their head up above the rest gets it chopped off. Instead of risk-taking, we often hear numerous explanations (excuses?) for sticking to the middle road:
Managers may be reluctant to blaze a new trail unless and until they’re comfortable that everyone else is already on that trail as well. They’ll tell you in a bit of free advice, that going it alone is risky business.
So there seems to be less interest, less focus on identifying and following solutions, strategies or just simple programs that relate directly to this particular company, with this particular set of challenges, and with this particular employee culture. Instead, we follow the “path often traveled.”
Breaking the mold
So how do you step out from the crowd? What must you do to stand apart as a principled manager, as one who declines to follow the “yes” mentality of peers and colleagues?
Perhaps the most difficult challenge that faces you is standing by your convictions – to become more of a leader and less of a follower.
This is not the time or place to pass the buck with a muttered, “Moo.”
Chuck Csizmar is the Founder & Principal of CMC Compensation Group,an independent global compensation consulting firm whose expertise lies in helping companies manage the effective and efficient utilization of financial rewards for their employees. He also maintains a popular blog on compensation at his website www.cmccompensationgroup.com.