The Black Helicopter

Random ramblings

Buzzword-based Leadership

with 4 comments

Leaders and managers subscribing to Value(s)-based Leadership are a recent annoying trend in Scandinavian media. While the philosophy itself probably has old roots – my guess is Humanistic Psychology, Human Potential groups and a variety of self-help and human resource approaches (I have absolutely no knowledge of management theory, and Wikipedia  doesn’t help) – it is a newly discovered disturbing presence on my TV-screen. Here hordes of nice people blur the distinction between work, life and (secularized) spirituality with buzzwords chosen to represent the core values of their corporation: respect, competence, creativity… here is a list from About.com

(…) ambition, competency, individuality, equality, integrity, service, responsibility, accuracy, respect, dedication, diversity, improvement, enjoyment/fun, loyalty, credibility, honesty, innovativeness, teamwork, excellence, accountability, empowerment, quality, efficiency, dignity, collaboration, stewardship, empathy, accomplishment, courage, wisdom, independence, security, challenge, influence, learning, compassion, friendliness, discipline/order, generosity, persistency,optimism, dependability, flexibility (…) 

The problem with this approach is two-fold. First of all, they are platitudes, the very essence of bullshit bingo: Nobody in their right mind would disagree with courage, wisdom and independence? Or loyalty, credibility and honesty? I understand the motivating intentions behind this use of words; positive thinking is an optimistic and at times working approach. But looking at most of the internet websites I googled, values seem to be filled with power, transforming lazy peoploids into capitalist übermensch and leaders into visionary bodhisattvas. 

Secondly, as some academic studies have shown, there is a fine line between motivating values and repressive corporate ideology masked as empowering leadership – this is what Frank Zappa beautifully grasped with his fine line between “kneeling down and bending over”. Thus egalitarian leadership ideology becomes a powerful neo-liberal force, a paradox of total individualization (competence, accomplishment) and total instrumentalization (corporate mobilization or you’re out). The same smell of totalitarian exclusion can be found in other well-meaning initiatives, such as corporate excercise programmes (no fat employees!).
 
I have a suggestion for a corporation who wants my money: Choose some surprising values, like Confusion, Bureaucracy and Laziness. Or even Hostility, Chaos and Indecision. At least I know you have proper humour rather than the insipid value of “enjoyment/fun”.
 
[For academic critique, see J. Carette & R. King: Selling Spirituality, 2005; K. L. Salamon: “No Borders in Business”, in Bewes and Gilbert (ed.): Cultural Capitalism,  2000; and for Scandinavian readers, J. Haviv (ed): Medarbejder eller modarbejder, 2007; books by K. L. Salamon, K. M. Bovbjerg. A more positive treatment can be found in P. Heelas: The New Age Movement, 1996, The Spiritual Revolution (w. L. Woodhead), 2005, Spiritualities of Life, 2008]
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Written by Jesper

July 9, 2010 at 02:07

4 Responses

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  1. As an afterthought, a friend of mine made this good point on Facebook about values-based leadership: It exhibits the same magical thinking as speech-acts and ritual practice: If we *say* it is so, it *is* so. Then we can just go about our business, and if anybody points out a discrepancy between actions and values, values win. That is almost a Jedi Mind Trick.

    Jesper

    July 9, 2010 at 14:48

  2. […] on my list of media annoyances is the extensive use of worthless and usually quite ridiculous vox pop segments in […]

  3. I’ve commented on something similar to this based on experiences from previous work places: http://blog.blazingangles.net/soapbox/2008/03/arbejdspladsens-vaerdier.html.

    wolf

    July 10, 2010 at 16:45

    • Hello wolf… very good discussion for Scandinavian speakers! Level-headed and more constructive than my own.

      Jesper

      July 10, 2010 at 21:22


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