Striving to make your organization “one big happy family” won’t create the
workplace utopia you hope for. Here, Daniel F. Prosser explains what a patriarchy
is, why it’s bad for your company, and how to tell if you’ve created one.

"Is Your Company a Patriarchy? Seven Warning Signs to Watch For"It sounds like a notion that should have gone the way of the gold watch, three-martini lunches, and the secretarial pool, but the truth is, patriarchy is alive and well inside of today’s companies. (Yes, even those that are run by women.) And the bad news is that a patriarchal leadership model—one in which the boss maintains a clear line of authority and enjoys special privileges while employees do as they are told—is very bad for your company.

“Patriarchy creates a class divide—they/them vs. we/us—and thus erodes connectedness,” says Daniel F. Prosser, author of THIRTEENERS : Why Only 13 Percent of Companies Successfully Execute Their Strategy—and How Yours Can Be One of Them. “This is bad news for your company, because connectedness is everything. Without it, there is no way you can consistently execute your strategy.”

At least 87 percent of companies fail to execute their strategies each year, Prosser shares, and a destructive patriarchal dynamic is one of many possible culprits. InTHIRTEENERS, he explains how to diagnose exactly why your strategy is sinking and how to push your company into the 13 percent that do succeed, based on his research of Best Places to Work companies.

Here are some warning signs that the patriarchal mindset has taken hold in your company:

There’s a lot of talk about employees and coworkers being treated “like family.” Sure, “we’re just one big family here” sounds good, because it implies that everyone in the organization likes, supports, and looks out for one another. But even with the best of intentions, it’s a bad idea to relate to employees and coworkers this way.

A sense of entitlement has overtaken the ranks. To paraphrase Peter Block, entitlement is present when managers believe that their employees’ needs are more important than the business. Almost without fail, this attitude prevails in patriarchies because leaders—who think they’re being benevolent—give their people too much leeway. (For example, “What’s the big deal if Jean is always a little tardy? I don’t want her to get mad and leave so I’ll just overlook it.”)

There’s a lot of pretending and secrecy around money issues. In patriarchies, leaders operate under the pretense that employees are valued and important—maybe even more so than the management. But often, they actually believe the opposite: that they, the leaders, are making all the sacrifices and therefore should be entitled (there’s that word again!) to a little something extra in the way of “executive benefits.”

Employees hold their performance hostage. In a patriarchy, leaders will go to great lengths to ensure that the “kids” aren’t unhappy. Meanwhile, employees often withhold their commitment and performance until they get what they want. They may even genuinely feel that they’re victims of management exploitation or mistreatment when they aren’t 100 percent satisfied.

“Employees know that ‘Mom’ or ‘Dad’ won’t fire them for acting out. They may even resort to covert acts of revenge until they receive the extra perks they want. And to make it even worse, they may not be consciously aware they are playing that game.”

Leadership takes on a cult-like status. Since only a patriarchy’s leaders can exercise power and dominance over others, leadership (not innovation or growth) becomes the main goal for employees to aspire to. Charismatic leaders are worshiped whether they’re effective or not.

“Meanwhile, creating an environment where people can be of service and partner with others falls completely by the wayside.”

Employee potential is squelched. The idea that each employee has something of value to contribute is missing from a patriarchal system. Employees are never allowed to be their fully human selves; instead, a leader’s ego is inflated by marginalizing others.

Favoritism flourishes. In patriarchies, you can bet that leaders have favorite “kids,” or as Prosser calls them, “sacred cows.” Sacred cows stand in the middle of the road where they stall progress—but no one is willing to call negative attention to them, much less push them aside.

“Whether a leader willfully overlooks unproductive behavior or simply doesn’t see it, favoritism creates a destructive, dysfunctional culture in which everyone else resents and works around the sacred cow,. Meanwhile, the leader is likely to see the sacred cow simply as ‘my Starbucks buddy’ or ‘the person who can always make me laugh’ instead of a drain on productivity and morale.”

“So, what can you do if one or more of these signs is present in your organization?” Prosser concludes. “The first and most important step to take is to stop relating to people in terms of their personalities or privileged positions in the company, and start relating to them based on their accountability—how well they keep their promises to produce real results.”

If you notice a gap between their words (what they say they are committed to) and their actions, ask yourself if you’ve actually modeled that behavior for them, and then ask the employee what’s keeping him or her from achieving the results they are accountable for. Then work with that person to provide what’s missing. Doing this one thing will spark immense change in your company—and begin to close the doors on patriarchy once and for all.

About the Author:

Dan Prosser is author of THIRTEENERS: Why Only 13 Percent of Companies Successfully Execute Their Strategy—and How Yours Can Be One of ThemAs CEO of The Prosser Group and, he has over 45 years’ experience building his own companies, while for the past 13 years, he has been speaking; teaching; mentoring; and coaching business leaders, entrepreneurs, and micropreneurs to cultivate an uncommon and breakthrough approach to helping people build an extraordinary competitive edge for their businesses.

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