This blog starts with a quote from one of my favourite artists (who I have referred to in previous blogs), Tim Minchin. In a recent ABC podcast on Conversations, Tim quite vehemently indicated that he really doesn’t like cheats, bullies, people who are insincere, and greedy people who put money over art and education. In fact, he went on to say that he shakes his fist at these things. In my mind, rightly so. Even though, as Tim admits it himself, there is a certain degree of self-righteousness in these statements, one thing is clear. A clear mantra exists (and with the current leader of the free world a devotee of greed) in the minds and comments of a considerable number of our leaders that promotes the pursuit of profit and the hoarding of money over all else.
Don’t get me wrong. I get it. Without money, we can’t have a lot of things that we currently have in our privileged first world existence. But, I say, at what expense? Pardon the pun. At the expense of those things that make us good humans. That makes humanity human.
It is the traits of cheating, bullying, insincerity and greed (the recent Australian Banking Royal Commission is just one stark and sobering example) that show up our society and its leaders who follow these traits as somewhat lacking in empathy for others. Somewhat psychopathic.
So where does this psychopathy come from? It is my contention that it comes from furious ambition. I worked in an organisation for many years that only ever promoted ambition. It looked derisively on those who felt comfortable and content with their lot. What was their problem? Why don’t they want to get promoted? If you weren’t seeking to get up the ladder, there was something wrong with you. Why weren’t you driven? Why weren’t you striving for the top? In fact, if you weren’t, when you did seek a move to a more senior position, that fact that you hadn’t been driving for promotion previously was an unwritten mark against you. What’s his/her problem?
I once once had a very serious leader advise a group of my peers at a ‘love-in’ designed to ‘groom’ us for future torture, pain and sycophantic behaviour (although we had no idea of this at the time), that ‘if weren’t prepared to piss people off, don’t become a senior manager.’ How about that for leadership gold. A textbook for the ages in the making right there! If you were not prepared to make someone’s life below you a misery, ride off into the sunset now. If that was not psychopathic behaviour, I don’t know what is. I don’t believe that that person had the slightest idea of what empathy was. They probably saw it, as God forbid, a sign of weakness.
Another senior manager in another work environment told me that, ‘we get things done around here. We might kill people in the process, but we get things done’. Another modicum of sage advice to chalk up to psychopathy. Seriously people!
Even though these are just two examples, psychopaths are everywhere in various guises and levels of psychopathy. The way our organisations are currently structured, through greed, ambition and the pursuit of profit above all else, appeal to people who possess psychopathic instincts and these are the ones who are inherently promoted to the lofty heights. These organisations have yet to realise, regardless of the mantras of the Richard Bransons and Simon Sineks of the world, who espouse the need to care for their employees, that certain fields of operations and businesses exist in which being able to do things without caring about people, is how you get where you get. Psychopathic behaviour = Promotional quality.
Even though these traits do exist and exist in some measure regardless of the organisations I’ve been involved with for almost the last four decades, it is the Australian culture that I hope and believe will win out in the end.
As Tim Minchin suggests in this podcast, Australians and English are really good at mocking people who are wealthy and slightly looking down on success which has its problems, but the good things is, it keeps our psychopathic upward clawing in check.
So, like Tim, I too want Australia to be careful. It is still very much OK to strive to be better, to want more, to achieve more, to be the best that we can be, but never at the expense of others. Profit is good but people are better. Without people, there is no profit.