Why to Avoid the Iron Fist Business Management Style

Joetta L. Wagner | | Change Management

business management lessons to be learned from ChernobylEvery organization has its own business management style. Unfortunately, one of the most common styles in business is the Iron Fist.

HBO’s recent Chernobyl miniseries explored the nature of the accident, the people involved with its containment and the collateral effects on ordinary people in the area. What the show made abundantly clear were the political machinations at play. Remember, it was at a time when the USSR, headed by Mikhail Gorbachev, was a dominant world power. It was a time when the KGB held sway over every aspect of Russians’ lives. The reality of what went on is profoundly disturbing. The USSR’s government ruled with an iron fist. The cost? Appalling. Apparently, Gorbachev later remarked on how the government’s handling of the crisis at Chernobyl as directly contributing to the collapse of the USSR.

Which brings us to the business management style referred to as the Iron Fist – the same management style at play in the USSR.

Business Management Style Overview

Is there a comprehensive definition of “ruling with an iron fist?” According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, it refers to ruling a country, area, group, etc. in a very strict and often cruel way. It seems to be a business management style that often comes into play when a manager takes over a branch or department that’s in trouble and appears to be a permanent fixture of many organizations that pay poorly, including some retail corporations and chain eateries.

As part of science journalist Daniel Goleman’s 1995 book Emotional Intelligence, he analyzed various management styles.

• Visionary: moving everyone towards a common vision and goal

• Coaching: developing people in the present for the future

• Affiliative: creating harmonic and emotional bonds, especially in stressful times

• Democratic: inclusive participation and consensus

• Pacesetting: self-directed, with excellence as the outcome

• Commanding: immediate compliance, on demand

make sure your business management style is an effective oneThat last style is more colloquially known as the autocratic, Iron Fist style. We’ve seen it everywhere: politics, culture, sports and business. It doesn’t lead to good things. Fearful employees don’t offer their best work. High turnover ravages departments because there aren’t checks and balances. Change is something many employees fear, as change can lead to a loss of job security or status and, with an Iron Fist, change can be even harder to predict and ease.

What Are the Alternatives?

Company A, looking at itself honestly, has determined that its continued existence can happen only if change – on all levels, from executives to temporary employees – is enacted. So rather than having an iron fist hidden inside a velvet glove, are there alternative ways to bring change about in a positive manner? Yes. And one place to look for the steps needed to make it happen well is sports.

The CONQA Group, a global consulting, event management and sports entertainment company, delivers some surprising information about current coaching techniques that don’t fit the autocratic mold of yesteryear. Where do they overlap with business?

• Success might mean an eventual, epic failure, but the comeback can be equally epic.

• A trauma – an accident, a horrifying product issue and recall, the near-collapse of a company’s finances – can actually serve as the impetus for the needed changes.

• Make sure there are limits in place on business versus personal time, because “all work and no play” means Jack’s likely to end up with stress-related health issues, prematurely gray hair and a dissolute family dynamic.

• Know you’re not perfect, and learn from others, not just in your industry, but from the entire world of business.

These points can be utilized by people at every level of a company to contribute to an overall positive business management style. When everyone buys into the same motivating ideas, employees become invested in the organization’s future.

What Can Human Resources Do to Aid Positive Change Management?

complianceAs the source for overseeing a company’s talent, HR pros are in a position to see what types of change are necessary to move forward. Forbes’ contributor H.V. MacArthur outlines some simple, sensible steps for human resources planning for change management.

• Create a new vision for the company’s future. Daydream like a kid.

• Embrace disagreement and inevitable push back. They can reveal a plan’s flaws.

• Ensure it’s safe to ask questions and provide feedback.

• Become a storyteller, sharing the excitement of change with everyone, from executives on down.

Back to Chernobyl. If the government had seen the disaster and immediately called upon other nations for help, technology, engineering and figuring out how best to contain the radioactive cloud would have been tackled worldwide. Countries like the US, the UK, West Germany, France and other European principalities would have provided aid. But the USSR government and their security agency were insistent on making sure others saw them as being in control and the resulting toll on the region was exorbitant.

Don’t sit on the sidelines and watch your company’s death throes. Change for the employees’ good.

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