The End to Insensitivity

On a recent reading of the business section of one of Ireland’s national newspapers I came across a column titled: ‘why insensitivity is a vital managerial trait!’ I hesitated before reading the article and checked to see whether the date was April 1st! After all, given the shocking betrayals revealed about heads within the Church, the banks, other financial institutions, Government bodies, the Gardai, it seems quite perverse of any writer to be in praise of insensitivity. Not only have the leaders and managers of the various institutions mentioned lost the trust of their heretofore followers, but there is a boiling anger and even rage brewing about their heartless conduct. The major problem with the management of our leading economic, social, political and religious organisations has been a depersonalisation of individuals, an avarice, a greed, a superiority, an arrogance and, as yet, a refusal to take responsibility for their inhumanity to man.

What gives rise to the article was the declaration by Jon Moulton of Moulton and Browne of his three strongest character traits: determination, curiosity and insensitivity. In the words of Jon Moulton ‘the great thing about insensitivity is that it lets you sleep when others can’t.’ One wonders who are ‘the others’ he is referring to – are they the ones at the receiving end of his insensitivity and seething with rage at being an anonymity within the workforce? How can any mature manger believe that being heartless is going to increase staff loyalty, motivation, productivity, creativity and commitment? Bullying – a product of insensitivity is a time bomb still waiting to go off in many workplaces.

The writer of the column suggests that being in management means having the insecurity to take decisions that will hurt individual people. Has the writer any clue that it is the truth that sets people free and that a genuine telling of what are the bases for a difficult decision considerably softens the blow and means that both manager and employee can sleep that night! There have been cases where the insensitive firing of an individual employee has resulted in that said employee either returning to shoot the manager and his cohorts or taking his own life or both. Management is both a head and a heart practice and management that has head but no heart is not management at all. Equally, management that has heart but no head is not management at all. Effective management is a function of a solid interiority from which nobody can distance, exile, demean or lessen your presence. Sensitivity or being emotionally mature does not mean taking responsibility for others, but it does mean being responsible for self, ensuring that work, wealth, status, power are not tied to one’s worth and confidence and that interactions with employees are of a nature that individualises and dignifies their presence. Emotional maturity is also about seeing beyond oneself from an inner stronghold; it does not mean, as the writer of the column suggested, taking what others say personally and staying awake all night agitating on the hurts experienced or witnessed. On the contrary, the mature manager sleeps because he does care, he does have heart, he does affirm the presence of workers, he does firmly and authoritatively speak the truth and he exercises his responsibility with due care of self, employees, clients, shareholders and the organisation.

Feelings occur spontaneously – they are not consciously manufactured – and they arise with the mature purpose of calling for progressive action. The manager who suppresses, or even worse, represses or denies emotional realities within self and others is a danger to the wellbeing of himself, partner, family, employees and a poor servant of shareholders.

Managers who are fully in touch and expressive of the totality of their nature do not dither or prevaricate but are definite in their decision-making whilst maintaining a respectful connection with individual employees. My hope is that the days are over of managers who are insensitive, who bully, who depersonalise, who are narcissistic, avaricious, greedy and intimidating. The preference is that these managers will recognise their need to examine their largely unlived lives and seek the necessary help to resolve their insensitivity. However, other members of work and other occupational, social, religious and political organisations cannot afford to wait for managers to transform themselves. It is the responsibility of each of us to understand ourselves and to take due responsibility to transform ourselves and that includes challenging any heartless responses of managers and leaders.

Dr. Tony Humphreys practices as a Clinical Psychologist/Author and International Speaker. He is also Director of UCC Courses on Communication, Parent Mentoring and Relationship Studies. His book The Mature Manager is currently available.  Tony will talk on ‘Depression is an Emotion’ on Tuesday next 9th March at CUH Lecture Theatre at 8.30 p.m. on behalf of the AWARE organisation.