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Technology: Is it Making You More of a Jerk?

“Of the billionaires I have known, money just brings out the basic traits in them. If they were jerks before they had money, they are simply jerks with a billion dollars.” Wise words from master investor, Warren Buffett. According to a Harvard Business Review post by Michael Schrage, “Buffett’s ‘jerk doctrine’ applies equally to the growing digital wealth of managers and leaders.” Can this be? Are all these advances in technology magnifying our basic traits? In other words, is technology making us more of a jerk?

The advancements in technology over the past decade seem to have magnified both extremes of the managerial spectrum. As we continue to integrate technology further into our work, it appears to make good managers better and poor manager even worse. Schrage points out that technology has seemed to “make managerial control freaks even freakier and the empowerers more empowering.” For example, the rise and recent proliferation of social media platforms inside corporations has made it super easy for obsessive-compulsive leaders to fixate on their staff. However, the same tools have made it easier for trusting leaders to extend their trust. Schrage illustrates his point with the following example. At one global IT firm, a project manager famous for being incredibly picky beyond belief created an intranet crawler that alerted him to any email discussing changes in schedules or delivery dates. Any hint that someone might slip up and blow a deadline or have something be completed earlier than expected was flagged, immediately drawing his attention. It doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to see that this level of micromanagement ended up driving most people to use their own, personal email accounts to share information about project status. As a result, instead of successfully pulling a team together this one man’s surveillance literally drove dozens off the company network.

But, it’s not all bad. For the trusting managers out there, advancements in technology are allowing them to place a greater trust in their teams. For example, according to Schrage, “a senior account with a reputation for mentoring regularly sends links and recommendations to her people via her tablet inviting them to follow-up if they need support on the business issues they raise.” Additionally, new tools have allowed her to make it a point to respond to any and all inquiries from her people before 9pm saying, “It’s easy for me to share with them and I try to make it easy for them to share with me.”

Despite organizations’ best efforts to create “best practices” with these new tools, a key point that is often overlooked is the simple fact that the people who use these tools are well just that… people. Each of them brings their own set of unique faults and habits. So, the same technology that allows a process to be standardized and scaled is exactly the same technology that lets an inveterate micromanager aggressively assure that everyone’s complying with the rules every day. If organizations are not careful and conscious, the way they assign accountability can easily invite the worst aspects of a meddler’s temperament to materialize, quickly blurring the fine line between “trust” and “verify”. According to Schrage, the simple solution is for every manager to “ask themselves: What’s the mix between messages that might be interpreted as management, micromanagement and mentoring? Am I giving in to temptations that will corrode trust? Or am I using these technologies in a way that brings out my better managerial self?”

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