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Chris Woodman

Leadenhall Consulting

Managing Director

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Blog: The dangers of pulling rank – ‘Do you know who I am?’

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There have been a couple of well-publicised incidents recently in which well known figures have allegedly pulled rank – whether it be Andrew Mitchell and his altercation with a policeman or George Osborne using a first class seat with a standard class ticket asking the ticket inspector ‘do you know who I am?’ (according to a fellow traveller).

It reminds me of an story I heard when I worked at Ford Motor Company‘s body and assembly plant in Halewood back in the mid eighties. A new plant manager from Germany was walking around the floor and found two employees (both scousers, of course) who were playing cards behind one of the assembly lines.  
 
He asked what they were doing. They replied, ‘playing poker’. He said the immortal words ‘do you know who I am?’ to which one scouser said to the other, ‘Hey Jimmy, there’s a fella here who doesn’t know who he is! Better call for the nurse quick’.
 
There are a number of lessons to be learned from the incidents which have been publicised for HR professionals:
 
1. In the modern world, we may all have different jobs, with different responsibilities and different economic value but we all have the value of ‘one human being’. This means we start from a position of respecting other people regardless of their position and talk to them on an equal footing, either personally or when we communicate within the organisation (no patronising business speak please).
 
2. As you rise in the ranks and gain more senior positions, and work with more senior executives some people will naturally defer to you, say less to upset you and will be nicer to you. As pleasant and seductive as this situation becomes, do not believe that you are somehow better than others, or that you have become a superior being. Be active in finding out what people really think, continue to behave normally, be interested in others and continue to focus on your job and what needs to be accomplished.
 
3. Speak truth to power. Show respect for people you work for and in senior positions (they also have the value of one human being), but be frank, be honest, diplomatic but make sure the leadership does not ignore inconvenient truths. Organisations can get themselves into all sorts of problems when people do not speak up – Olympus and its finances, BBC and the current Jimmy Saville issue, Toyota and its break problems leading to a recall etc.
 
And my final piece of advice would be: Remember who you are. There is nothing more embarassing than forgetting your own name. It’s bad enough trying to remember everyone else’s.
 
 
Chris Woodman is managing director of Leadenhall Consulting, which provides coaching and HR services to the financial services industry.
 
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4 Responses

  1. Awesome

    This article was written by a real thinking writer.
    I agree many of the with the solid points made by the writer.

    keep it up!

  2. Creating Trust to Gain Honest Feedback

    Great blog – it highlights well how easy it is to lose sight of what is important sometimes.  I think that as we reach  higher positions in organisations, the more mindful we need to be that it will become increasingly difficult for most people to feel that they can step up and give us feedback about unhelpful behaviours.  So we need to take responsibility for creating a safe environment, so that they trust their comments will be taken in the appropriate spirit, listened to seriously without a defensive shield and that suitable action will be taken.  Approaching everyone with openness and authenticity creates trust, enabling honest two-way communication.

  3. Do you know who I am?

     Jo,

    Thank you for commenting.  I like the article that you highlighted.   The short answer is personal integrity, courage and working with leaders to create the right culture from the top.  A former Company that I worked for developed the ‘Aspen Spirit’ which was clear about what was and wasnt acceptable in respect of behaviour and people would refer to these values openly in conversation.   To be fair, maintaining these values over time can be a challenge, but it is a great starting place.  Of course, if the CEO does not support these values and if the Executive Team does not apply them, then ultimately the decision may be ‘life is too short – I will find an organisation that does embody these values.’  Of course, whatever your organisation, whoever you are, you can set a personal example every day.

    Best

    Chris

  4. But how do you change them?

    Hi Chris

    I like your blog, and your story about the poker-playing workmen made me smile!

    I couldn’t agree more that everyone deserves to be treated respectfully, and also that as people move up the ranks, others are less inclined to challenge them, thus reinforcing their belief that they are superior…

    The problem is, of course, that unless my bad behaviour is challenged, as the (now ex) minister’s was, I will just keep doing the same thing.  At some point, the organisation, or my colleagues, must be enabled to tell me that my behaviour is unacceptable.  And give me a chance to change those unacceptable behaviours.  And face the consequences if I don’t. 

    This article is about a company in Australia who sacked its CEO because of he was ‘too difficult to work with’. 

    Now that’s the kind of message that really would help to change the ‘do you know who I am?’ culture!

    Jo

     

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Chris Woodman

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