Yesterday I listened as a business manager/sales rep. worried about how his “reports” (those for whom he is charged with responsibility) might not fulfil his expectations while he is on holiday. His predictable consequences for their failure was that his reputation would suffer irredeemably. That prospect was causing him to waken after only three or four hours of sleep, thereby casting a dark cloud on his time on vacation, that time legitimately needed to restore, to relax, to rejuvenate and to renew his energies for his return.
This is an extremely complex situation, one that many supervisors find themselves confronting, regardless of the business enterprise. As a quarter-century classroom teacher, one is constantly on guard to ascertain, discern, discover, investigate whether or not students are complying with various expectations. They range from the obvious cheating on tests and exams, to plagiarising on essays, to smoking weed just before entering class, as a perverted prank on the generational differences between student and teacher, all the way to, and this actually happened, to destroying a cricket bat that belonged to a fellow student, and then reporting the damage being caused by an instructor. In residential/private schools, there are other kinds of “pranks” to watch out for, including ‘frenching’ another student’s bed, stealing his X, Y or Z….dissembling on reasons for leaving campus, dissembling even on reasons for missing a test (“I feel sick and need to see the nurse!”)
There is however, a qualitative difference between the relationship between a teacher and the students, and that between a sales manager and his staff. In the first place, the teacher is not being paid in a manner directly dependent on the performance of his staff. Secondly, the school is a place designed, expressly, for the purpose of “instruction” and that includes instruction in not only the specific details of the curriculum, but also in the far more important details of how one is to comport with the expectations of both the individual classroom and the school generally. And all students know precisely the school boundaries that, if crossed, result in specific sanctions from detentions, to suspensions, to expulsions and possibly to transfers. Most students are also highly acquainted with the expectations of each respective instructor, and the consequences of failure to meet them.
The business/corporate supervisor, on the other hand, not only bears responsibility for his supervisees; he also bears responsibility to his own boss(es). S/he is caught tightly in a highly nuanced, often vaguely defined, and also frequently ill-managed web of both the potential for growth and success as well as the significant potential for subterfuge, deception, deceit, and the ultimate undermining, behind the back of the supervisor. The cliché that healthy relationships depend on the foundation of trust, while often chanted, is also frequently flaunted. In fact, in a culture dominated for centuries by an alleged ethic based on the “darker” side of humanity as the defining quality, and the legal/administrative/supervisory and leadership training in how to deal with miscreants, the starting place for most supervisors is not that their ‘reports’ will behave in an exemplary manner. The starting place is often the reverse, that there will always been deviation from what is expected, not only under corporate policy, but also more subtly, within the specific and far more clandestine relationship between a single supervisor and his single charge.
In the school situation, as a vice-principal
responsible for the ‘discipline’ inside the school, I found that when a student
(middle school age) committed some obvious offence, it was important to listen
to the full story, not only of the incident, but also of the background,
perhaps the ongoing relationship with another party, or the ongoing situation
in his (usually a male student) family, or even what was going on in a
part-time job, or even in a relationship with the opposite gender.
Full narrative, when sought and delivered, will often, if not always, unearth details that will either explain an incident in a far different light than the light imposed by a superficial public ‘gossip’ conversation, or more recently on social media.
Nevertheless, corporate sales and management leaders are not in the business of what they would deem “social work”, the task of ascertaining the back story to an incident/event/conflict/deception/undermining. They are in the business of both preventing and then punishing mis-deeds, if and when they are discovered. And the problem with some of the behind-the-back shenanigans of workers is that it is often neither fully discovered by the supervisor, and certainly not fully disclosed, by the perpetrators. Detective work, however, is not the normal curriculum for business supervisors, although they do know that deviance will take place and they will be expected to be vigilant to prevent and then to sanction it. In fact, the minimal amount of evidence will often, if not always lead to a “judgement” and a decision to act, to enter the report into the personnel file, to document the accumulation of demerit points, to sanction by withholding pay, or even to suspend from work with pay, or perhaps even to dismiss, with or without a resignation possibility, and with or without a “reference” codicil.
When income is based directly and even indirectly on performance, as it is in the case of the insomniac sales manager, then it is not only his “professional reputation” that is on the line. It is also his family income that could be impaired, curtailed, or even terminated, depending on the manner in which his ‘reports’ take their own responsibilities, in his absence.
In the world of amateur and professional sports, we frequently hear of players who will “do anything for their revered coach” and others, who take an opposite attitude, and play poorly in order either to attract the attention of the coach, or perhaps in an extreme case, to be moved to another team with another coach. In the case of my family, my father supervised at least a dozen people in the retail sector, with many more, especially summer students, knocking on his door to “work for George”…He was, apparently the first kind of coach, for whom his workers would go the second or third mile. On the other hand, both my maternal grandfather and mother were respectively evaluated by former employees as “very hard bosses” who nearly drove us crazy, in the words of more than one survivor. My grandfather supervised a Canadian National Railways roundhouse, while his daughter supervised a cleaning staff in a general hospital. Perhaps, if I had not already listened to the choirs of endorsements of my father’s supervision style and capacity, I would not either have heard, or been easily able to compare the different approaches.
Between the two approaches, there is also a very different level of mental anguish within the respective supervisors: grandfather and mother likely barely thought about or even gave a passing thought to whether or not their ‘staff’ respected and/or liked them. My father, on the other hand, needn’t have worried, and likely never did, about his standing with his troops.
Extremes, at either end of the spectrum, however, are not likely to be of much help to the sleepless manager of my acquaintance.
Given that his own performance, by his own admission, is of a very high standard, likely as “perfect” as he can make it, he is already undoubtedly under considerable strain, even before his holiday, to measure up to his own expectation standards. Expecting any others to fully fulfil a similar standard, however, is both unrealistic and foolhardy. There is a good likelihood that at least some of his staff are jealous of his degree of commitment and level of performance. There is also a good likelihood that his own bosses are fully aware of his conscientiousness, his dependability and reliability, and are likely far less conscious of his own anxieties.
In her book “Addicted to Perfection,” Marion Woodman,
“explores the hidden causes of compulsion in the lives of men and women. At the root of eating disorders, substance abuse, and other addictive and compulsive behaviours, Woodman sees a hunger for spiritual fulfilment. The need to experience a sacred connection to an energy greater than their own drives people to search for an illusory ideal of perfection….We are each, man and woman, made up of masculine and feminine sides or our psyche. The masculine side is the intellectual side, and it’s also the side that strives for order and control. The feminine side is based in the body and the earth, and it’s more intuitive. Neither is better or worse than the other, but if they get out of balance, in ourselves and/or in society weird, off-kilter things happen…The impulse toward perfection is the result of an imbalance toward the masculine side. The ‘cure’ is to awaken the feminine side, build trust with it, and bring it out to help integrate the psyche….perfection is static, unlike life which is constantly changing and moving. Therefore perfection is more closely related to death than it is to life, and the pursuit of perfection can be seen as the unconscious pursuit of death…When we begin the transition from an overly masculine psyche to a more integrated and balanced psyche, we can expect to pass through turmoil and fear before we attain the balance and peace on the other side. (from librarything.com reviews of Woodman’s book)
The complexity of the over-weening concentration on the masculine as the sine qua non of the business and the athletic world, renders the above paragraph likely inaccessible to most business leaders. It would also be inaccessible, for a variety of reasons (excuses) for the majority of ecclesial leaders, especially male ones. The inordinate striving for order and control, at the heart of this manager’s sleeplessness, is a condition millions of us strive for, especially in the midst of a pandemic, an environmental/existential threat, an abdication of political leadership dependent on and reliant on truth, a failure of public figures to take their own responsibilities as seriously as we think they could/should.
In the midst of chaos, we not only can see and hear data that demonstrates a world in chaos, we can even imagine, extrapolate, and envision one or more of an infinite number of catastrophes, including the failure of our staff to perform to our expectations. Added to the already humungus pile of other anxieties that have swept the public consciousness over the last several months and years (and yes that includes the disastrous, venal and irresponsible presidency of the former occupant of the White House from 2016 through 2020), whether or not a single group of employees will, or even can be expected to fulfil every last crossed ‘t’ and dotted ‘it’ while the boss is on holidays, is highly unlikely.
We do not become closer to God, by imposing a standard of perfection on ourselves, as is the case in the mis-guided application of religious ‘service’ in too many churches, including the Anglican/Episcopal. We also do not emulate God by imposing a weight of impossible proportions on our own shoulders, in an illusory enactment of responsibility taken to its “perfection”.
We only foreshadow our own collapse under the weight of a psychic burden too heavy for any person to shoulder. And the top bosses at the cited manager’s firm have to already have a realistic and true, and trust-based confidence on our somnambulant manager, so his worries are a creation of his own mind.
Will or can any of these words ameliorate his angst? Who knows?
The process of shedding the weight of an envisioned block of marble resting on one’s shoulders by revisioning it as a bar of Ivory soap (that floats) is not one that is or can be accomplished in an hour, a day or a week of holidays.
The process, however, can begin with a new perception of one’s role in the generation and the perpetuation of the angst.