My job has been a real drag for the last year.
When I moved into my current position, I was stoked. It was my first real promotion. It came with lots of new responsibilities and things to learn. I’ve done some really good things. Met a lot of neat people. It’s a big boy job, to be sure. Some people spend 10, 20, even 30 years in a position like this.
I don’t remain satisfied with things for long, though. I’m always looking for the next big thing, the next improvement, the next change. Processes become mundane to me and I look for ways to innovate and rethink old ways of doing things. So, as I creep toward my fourth year in this position, I have discovered that my superiors are not as eager as I am to change things. Over the last year, maybe even two, I have pushed for progress only to be met with resistance. When I have successfully caused change, it’s implementation has either been dragged out or limited in order to “play it safe”. Perhaps most people would be agreeable to this, but I am not. I want more. The idealist in me demands it.
In particular, I haven’t been impressed by the actions or what I perceive to be the attitudes of our chief executive. He seems to operate things here by the “shark theory”, which is laid out as follows:
- Sharks are always around. You may not see them, but they are always there. Calm water is not necessarily shark free. Trouble can be brewing.
- Sharks live to eat and eat to live. It is nothing personal – it’s just what they do. There is not such thing as making friends with a shark. There are some people with whom we must always use caution.
- Sharks never stop moving. If they stop, they will die. Some people thrive on creating discontent or inciting discord.
- Blood attracts more sharks. Those who are ready to bring down a leader will swarm when problems are present.
- The more blood and wounds (or the more disasters) that have occurred recently, the greater the risk of sharks. When an issue is national in scale, local news media always seize the opportunity to pursue it.
- Dolphins divert sharks because sharks don’t eat dolphins. We need to have good news ready to combat the sharks and divert attention and focus to positives.
- Distractions for sharks are only temporary. In our community, when sharks attack municipal or county issues, they may be diverted for a while. But if sharks find blood in another pool, they will also assume there is blood to be found in your pool.
- In the ocean, fish stay in schools. The safest place is in the middle, since sharks eat around the edges. Don’t do anything that draws attention to your organization over others.
I’m annoyed by the ideas in this theory. What does it make me think of first? Fear. We operate from a perspective of always looking over our shoulders, always fearing the perceived “sharks” that are circling us. The second thing it makes me think of is distrust. Trust no one. Especially the media. There are some people who should never be trusted because it is in their nature to try to get us. The third thing I see in this is connected to the first two; it is important for us to hide the “blood” (the negatives) and throw as many “dolphins” (positives) at the sharks so they’ll be distracted and go away. And last, but certainly not least, is the idea that it’s safest in the middle of the pack. Never do anything that is out of the ordinary, that would draw attention.
This philosophy is the exact opposite of what I believe in. I believe in being open and transparent. I know that may seem odd, given the fact that I’m writing this blog anonymously, but because of the culture of fear that runs this workplace I’m sure that if anyone saw this blog and knew I wrote it, I’d get in trouble. It probably won’t be long before I leave this place and find somewhere to work that wouldn’t be so judgmental and then I won’t have to worry about it. Anyway, openness and transparency. Huge. If you remain open and transparent, the odds are that people in your organization will avoid doing something sketchy. Skeletons are easier to keep hidden when they’re in the dark. In addition to openness and transparency I believe in innovation. Being on the edges. Being outside the box. Doing things that other people haven’t done before. It can be done carefully, it can be done in an organized way so as to avoid embarrassing failures, but then again failure is not always a negative when it can be recovered from. Mistakes happen. People try new things and they get them wrong…they try something else, and when they get it right they have learned. Honesty. Just as an organization should be open and willing to admit mistakes, an organization shouldn’t put up a false front of positive news just to keep appearances. Genuine success should be celebrated. Manufactured success boosts ego but does nothing for the organization and the people it serves.
I found this image today and it made me think about what we do at my workplace…keep our heads held high, travel as a pack, and ignore everything around us. Groupthink. It’s sad.
I refuse to play by those rules.