Anyone for PIMS? Intoxicating and debilitating dynamics in the workplace

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Anyone for PIMS? Intoxicating and debilitating dynamics in the workplace
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  Anyone for PIMS? Intoxicating anddebilitating dynamics in the workplace Michael Walton  Abstract Purpose  – The purpose of this paper is to draw attention to the need to examine non-conventional motivations of leaders and illustrate how such underlying dynamics can result in executive failure and organisational decline. Design/methodology/approach  – The paper reflects on some of the reasons why high-profile leaders can so easily derail, based on practical workplace experience as an external consultant, internal operational manager and as an external academic working with postgraduate students. Findings  – Executivesareverysusceptibletothecorrosiveinfluenceofpowerandprestigeandremain so, irrespective of seniority, titles and honours. Practical implications  – The paper alerts those in positions of responsibility to the limitations of applying a solely logical-rational approach to an understanding of workplace dynamics. Originality/value  – This paper highlights how power, money, sexual attraction and self-identity shape executive behaviour. Keywords  Senior management, Management power, Individual psychology, Money, Greed, Sex,Executive dysfunction, Leadership, Hubris  Paper type  Research paper  1. Fancy a glass of PIMS or would you prefer tap water perhaps? Industrial and commercial life is often presented as predominantly logical and rational inboth its intentions and ways of functioning. An alternative is to view the workplace as full ofambiguous initiatives and as a cauldron of emotively charged dynamics. So, on the onehand a view that organisations are primarily unidimensional in intent and behaviour whereason the other hand that they are more characterised by frantic, disordered, problematic andhighly emotionally charged interactions. From my experiences over many years – and fromwhat I continue to hear from my clients – both views hold water, and it may well be thatdifficulties arise when either one or other of these representations is denied or outlawed.This article focuses on the more frantic, emotionally charged side of the equation in part tobalance out the over-emphasis on more conventional views of organisations aslogical-rational entities and in part because engaging with the more messy side oforganisationallifeismorefun,morechallengingandsurprisinginwhatpopsupforattention.For instance, when difficulties and tensions inexplicably seem to arise at work, aconventional approach would be to identify what has gone wrong and ‘‘fix it’’ until the nexttime remedial action is required. But what if addressing such matters through logic andrational analysis doesn’t seem to work or get to the heart of what is causing issues in the firstplace? What if the underlying issues disrupting the workplace are more complex than asurface logical-rational remedy would be able to address, let alone diagnose?Ofcourse,whilemanyissuescanberesolvedthroughapplyinglogicoranalysis,othersmayreflecttensionsandmotivationsthathavebeengeneratedbythedynamicsoftheworkplace PAGE 276 j  INDUSTRIAL AND COMMERCIAL TRAINING j  VOL. 45 NO. 5 2013, pp. 276-282, Q Emerald Group Publishing Limited, ISSN 0019-7858 DOI 10.1108/ICT-02-2013-0010 Michael Walton is based atPeople in OrganisationsLtd, Pointon, UK.  andinter-personaltensions.So, thisarticle considersfouremotionallychargedfactors, eachof which can rear its ugly head and demand careful and sophisticated attention should theinterested reader seek to avoid – or at least aim to diminish – the disruptive anddysfunctional havoc such factors can cause. Paying careful attention to workplace issuessuch as power, personal identity, the corrosive effect of money and the dynamics of sexualattraction can throw more light on some of the more obscured antics of a leader’s behaviourat work. For the remainder of this article, the acronym ‘‘PIMS’’ will be used to refer to thesedrives and the underlying motivations they reflect.So what part, then, might PIMS play in the workplace, you might ask. Well, when it comesdown to it, apart from the operational constraints of the job, workplace behaviour will befundamentallylittledifferentfromhowanemployeewillbehavewhenoutsidetheirworkplace(Pfeffer and Sutton, 2006, p. 57) and this set me wondering about some of the underlyingmotives that drive behaviour. It is, though, the behaviour of those in positions of executiveresponsibility in particular that is the focus for this paper.It should be noted that PIMS-generated behaviours, because they are tricky to work with, dohaveatendencytogetlost,denied,slipthroughthecracksorareplasteredoverbecauseofthe tensions and anxieties that tackling them generates. However, it is highly likely that thosein positions of authority will be particularly interested in how the dynamics of power, identity,money and sexual attraction play out in the workplace. Executives will be alert to howdynamics such as these may be able to be used to work to their advantage. Consequently,payinginsufficient attention to examininghowleaders mobilise – and perhaps manipulate –such powerful workplace dynamics is likely to be costly to leaders and to the organisationsfor which they are responsible.To reinforce this assertion, this paper illustrates how PIMS came to derail and disrupt anumber of prominent high-profile business leaders. I can only assume that the high-profilecases I draw upon will be but the tip of an iceberg of such cases replicated many times overin business communities worldwide. If so, we neglect to examine such dynamics – and trainour leaders how to address them – at our collective peril.With some notable exceptions – such as DuBrin (2012), Furnham (2010), Knights andWillmott(1999),Hogan(2007),KetsdeVries(2001,2009),LemmergaardandMuhr(2013) –all too often the emphasis in the literature on leadership, the management of talent,organisational culture, business development, the dynamics of change, and performancemanagement remains firmly focused on managing and manipulating the ‘‘tangibles’’ and‘‘visibles’’ of business life – such things, for example, as performance figures, profit levelsand ratios, rankings in journals, sales figures, utilisation figures, return on investment ratiosandthelike.Atonelevel,allveryreasonable – andreasoned – onemightsay,butatanotherlevel quite scandalous because far less weight is given to ‘‘PIMS’’ factors, which, in myexperience, profoundly affect a leader’s behaviour and the success or failure of theirorganisations. In many ways factors such as PIMS (see Figure 1) highlight the interplaybetween the ‘‘logic’’ and the ‘‘emotional dynamics’’ of behaviour at work. Taking them intoaccount will facilitate a more nuanced and sophisticated examination of the complexities,confusions and inherent tensions of organisational life – and provide more insight into theunderlying motivations of executives.While not the whole story, my experience suggests that paying more explicit attention tomatters such as the acquisition and (mis)use of power and privilege, the importance ofidentity and reputation, the lure of money (status and benefits), and attraction and sexualdesires can add much to decoding workplace dynamics far more than relying solely on thesomewhat conventional (e.g. transactional or transformational) thinking about leadership orremaining preoccupied by the challenge involved in dissecting the functional differencesbetween ‘‘leadership’’ and ‘‘management’’.What seems to me to represent a matter of priority – in the face of a continuing catalogue ofhigh-profile instances of counter-productive behaviour, executive misdemeanours andinstances of downright criminality – is a need to promote a more forensic examination of VOL. 45 NO. 5 2013 j INDUSTRIAL AND COMMERCIAL TRAINING j  PAGE 277  leadership  per se   in order to elicit more insights about what triggers leaders’ misbehaviour.After all, errant behaviour at the top is unlikely to be because those leaders are thick,unworldly or inexperienced. Or, as Alvesson and Spicer (2012) rather moreeloquently put it,‘‘We see functional stupidity as being created not through intellectual deficits but throughpolitical expediency and the operation of power’’ (p. 1214). Power and politics yet again –perhaps now is the time for a more explicit and determined emphasis to be placed on thedynamics of PIMS, both in the preparation for executive management and when re-viewingleadership-in-practice. 2. The universality of PIMS in the workplace There should be little surprise either as to the universality of such dynamics or of theprofoundand pervasive influence they exert in shaping workplace behaviour, because suchpreoccupations are part and parcel of what it means to be human. And, as our leaders arenot yet robotic mechanistic creatures, we should expect those in such positions to besusceptible to, and influenced by, PIMS themes. What makes leaders different, however, istheir ability to mobilise organisational resources to satisfy their PIMS drives and desires.However from my experiences – and given the stories I hear – far too little recognition andattention is given to examining and explaining the corrosive effect of power or thepervasiveness of the drives shown in Figure 1.Indeed, PIMSfactorsremainlargelyabsentfrompopulistwritingaboutworkplacebehaviouron leadership and management. This may be because such matters are difficult andsensitive to examine and could disrupt the more traditional rationalistic – and one could say‘‘safe’’ – view of what motivates workplace behaviour. Yet I would be surprised if everyreader – unless they have sleepwalked through their careers or remained heavily sedatedfor several years – will not have experienced on more than one occasion how PIMSdynamics have critically shaped events and influenced the making of decisions.Interestingly, the film industry has not shown the same lack of appetite as mainlineleadership and management development for highlighting the underlying tensions, issues,power-plays and ‘‘dark’’ dynamics of organisational life (Thompson, 2012). The impact ofsuch films as Wall Street (1987) and Wall Street 2 (2011), Bonfire of the Vanities (1990),Disclosure (1995), or Enron (2006) illustrate only too well how potent PIMS dynamics can bein shaping leadership behaviour and influencing the course of the organisation at large. Figure 1  The PIMS dimensions PAGE 278 j INDUSTRIAL AND COMMERCIAL TRAINING j  VOL. 45 NO. 5 2013  Pride,greed,arrogance,envy, intolerance, narcissism and the corrosive effect of power andmoney are writ large in these reflective portrayals of business life.The current appeal of TV political dramas such as Borgen (2011, 2012), Page Eight (2011)and The Hour (2011) may well also testify to an enduring interest in – as well as reinforcingthe universality of – issues of power, identity, meaning and duplicity within organisationalcontexts, political or otherwise. I would hazard a guess, however, that less rather than moreuse is made of such rich leadership material in much of the contemporary teaching in ourbusiness schools and colleges of management. Knights and Willmott (1999) do, however,outline some of their academic work where they draw on contemporary literary material toexamine issues of identity, insecurity, power and inequality at work. Recent research fromCollins (2009) and his colleagues describe how success – and power motivation – canresult in the onset of hubris, decay and calamity, as does Owen (2007) with his work on‘‘Bush, Blair and the intoxication of power’’. Hayward (2007) observes that ‘‘Hubris is not theresult of a defective personality; it is the result of bad judgment’’ (p. 11), and that badjudgement may come from too much PIMS!However, such dynamics remain very difficult to address or engage with because of theiremotionallychargednatureandbecause ofthe sensitivityofthe matterstheyraise anddrawattention to. For example, how easy can it be to initiate discussions about the corrosion ofpower, about sexually charged infatuations or indiscretions, about an executive’sdysfunctional narcissistic excesses, or in drawing attention to the shameless greed ofcolleagues – and the contempt colleagues may show for others lower down the greasypole? Just hinting at such matters might lead to retributive action, a career change or asudden desire to graze in pastures new, albeit it perhaps with a glowing reference! Leadersare – no doubt about it – susceptible to shows of excessive pride, increasing greed andarrogance and can be prone to inculcating organisational cultures that would feed theirsenseofinflatedself-importanceandomnipotence.The riseofthe CEOascelebrityover thepast decade or so illustrates how this has happened and increased the degree of attentionwhich an executive will now give to crafting – and protecting – their identity and reputation(Hogan, 2007; Strenger, 2011).Narcissistic excess, dysfunctional charisma, greed, executive hubris and rampantarrogance emerge as factors underpinning many of the high-profile cases of destructiveleadership that have hit the headlines in recent years. The reasons why suchcounter-productive phenomena seem to have taken hold in the first place is less clear – acombination, perhaps, of dominant personalities within malleable or disorganisedorganisations. Such factors, if combined with weak internal organisational controls andexpansive globalisation opportunities, may well have contributed to dysfunctional executivebehaviour. Too little of an awareness of the corrosive impact that money, power and aninflated sense of self at the top can have on business leaders may also have led to thehigh-profile cases of destructive and disruptive leadership illustrated below (Newton, 2006;Padilla  et al. , 2007; Walton, 2007). 3. The CEO as celebrity: toxic intoxications The following cases illustrate how PIMS can derail and unravel the best of them. Byron(2004),forexample,in TestosteroneInc. ,graphicallychartstheconnectionsbetweenpower,identity and sexual attraction in examining the behaviour of four high-profile CEOs – Jack ‘‘What if the underlying issues disrupting the workplace aremore complex than a surface logical-rational remedy would beable to address, let alone diagnose?’’ VOL. 45 NO. 5 2013 j INDUSTRIAL AND COMMERCIAL TRAINING j  PAGE 279  Welch of General Electric, Ronald Perelman of Revlon, Leo D. Kozlowski of TycoInternational,andAlbertDunlap ofSunbeam.He wondered‘‘whatexactlywasit thatcausedso many men, at the very apogee of their power and acclaim [...] with the world at their feetand their dreams in the stars’ to behave in ways that damaged their credibility and severelydamaged their reputations. These reputations have, variously, been damaged throughout-of-control serial womanising, significant misuse of company money, dysfunctionalnarcissism, arrogance, and greed (Byron, 2004, p. 161). Building on these examples,Hamilton and Micklethwait (2006) in  Greed and Corporate Failure   draw attention to casesfrom Europe and the USA where dominant CEOs’ greed, hubris and ego take the lead withdisastrous effects for their organisations. They chronicle, in captivating style, the decline ofBarings, AIB, Enron, WorldCom, Tyco, Marconi, Swissair, Royal Ahold and Parmalat.While there is much to be gained from maintaining a positive self-attitude and beingself-confident in both work and one’s personal life, some take such positive attributes to theextreme and become self-absorbed, self-adoring, self-centred and exhibit little empathy –or indeed understanding – of the problems and concerns of others that their self-orientedbehaviour may generate. In examining narcissism in the workplace, for example, DuBrin(2012, p. vii) highlights the following as indicators of dysfunctional narcissism: B  a grandiose sense of self-importance; B  a preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, or ideal love; B  requiring excessive admiration; B  having a sense of entitlement; B  showing arrogant, haughty behaviours and attitudes; and B  being interpersonally exploitative.These are indicators of an intense and consuming preoccupation with the self to theexclusion of the welfare of others – and in the case of leaders – their organisations. Suchfeatures in a leader would seem, as the material presented by Byron (2004) illustrates, to belikely to result in profound dysfunctional leadership.In  Sex, Money, Happiness, and Death  , Kets de Vries (2009) positions these very humanpreoccupations and desires within business life. In his view, for example, the impact ofsexual attraction on behaviour in particular can be so pervasive that ‘‘I argue that all humanactivity – including many management decisions – is prompted by this desire’’ (p. 5). Healso highlights how money plays such an important role in our lives, determining our outlookand steering many of our decisions but, as he points out, ‘‘money could turn out to cost toomuch’’ (p. 78). Money – with its important symbolic role – generates emotions of envy, fear,hope, resentment, joy, hate, and disgust, among others. ‘Money, in addition to being asymbol of power and control, also symbolizes winning the game of life. It is an indicator of aperson’s achievements, bettering others. If we experience a lack of self-worth, wealth is oneway of showing others that we are a force to be reckoned with’’ (Kets de Vries, 2009, p. 86).For those readers who may be ‘‘most cynical about the link between money and power inWashington,itwashardlyasurprisethatformerEnronemployees,advisers,andconsultantswere given top leadership roles in the Bush White House’’ (Bazerman and Watkins, 2004, ‘‘Narcissistic excess, dysfunctional charisma, greed, executivehubris and rampant arrogance emerge as factorsunderpinning many of the high profile cases of destructiveleadership which have hit the headlines in recent years.’’ PAGE 280 j INDUSTRIAL AND COMMERCIAL TRAINING j  VOL. 45 NO. 5 2013
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