Why We’re Stuck in An Authoritarian Rut

Image of Tom Shaydac, Director of the documentary, I AMFriday night I went to the Washington West Film Festival to see I AM, a documentary by Tom Shadyac. You know… the guy who directed Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Liar Liar, Patch Adams, and a host of other popular comedies. After an accident that left him suffering with Post Concussion Syndrome and facing the possibility death, Shadyac came to grips with how his values and the way he lived his life differed. Vastly.

The discomfort spurred Shaydac to make a movie about his journey to reconcile core values with personal actions. Ultimately, I AM seeks to answer two fundamental questions:

1. What’s wrong with our world?
2. What can we do about it?

The movie just may have answered one of the burning questions I’ve been pondering for some time now: Why do American business leaders continue to fail to build healthy workplaces? After all, research has long demonstrated that a strengths-based methodology taught by organizations like The Marcus Buckingham Company can create engaging work environments that enable people to dig deep into their potential and find fulfillment on the job.

And yet the vast majority of Americans hate their jobs. Only about 10% of employees achieve a state of deep satisfaction at work. I’ve consistently viewed this phenomena—the seeming inability to kick the authoritarian management style to the curb—as a failure in leadership. Elements within I AM enabled me see that the failure point may, in fact, be more deeply rooted in culture.

Among other things, the movie posits that a culture which values an economic system based on competition for the sake of consumption is inherently flawed. Taken back to its root, then, the way we structure our businesses and encourage people to climb the corporate ladder is also flawed.

Inherently I think we sense this fundamentally false value. Otherwise we would not refer to working in a “dog-eat-dog world.” Or entering the “rat race.” If the majority of our businesses adhered to a healthy model we wouldn’t take such glee in reading Dilbert or watching The Office.

There appears to be no question that we’ve built our economic future on a model that cannot support sustained growth because of its inherent flaws. So it’s time to acknowledge that management as we know it is broken. For now. The good news: We have begun to find ways to formally transition from the old management model to one grounded in the science of positivity and well-being.

While the well-being in the workplace movement is still early stage, there are signs it’s gaining momentum. For example, Positivity and Positive Business DC both launched recently. These, and organizations like them, seek to teach businesses how to create healthy, rewarding environments. (Heightened profitability becomes a byproduct of engaged employees.)

I AM is worth seeing. It covers a range of topics far beyond the scope of this post.

Thank you for Tom Shadyac for challenging people to question basic assumptions about the world around them. Thank you also for taking the time to chat with the audience after Friday night’s viewing. The way you interacted with the audience, especially the kids, inspired us as much as the movie itself.

Finally, thank you to Brad Russell for founding the Washington West Film Festival. You had a terrific turnout for an event just now entering its second year. (It’s important to note that all of this year’s proceeds will go to Hurricane relief.) We can’t wait to see what you cook up for next year!

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