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The complex picture around pride at work

This is going to be a pretty nuanced issue, so let’s take it slowly.

First: pride is one of the seven deadly sins, for sure. But there’s also an increasing amount of evidence that — when used properly — pride is a great thing. Let’s start with some research, actually.

Pride research

Here’s the experiment, and it’s summarized in a TED article called “Pride can be a virtue, but it needs to be the right kind of pride.” The basic layout of the experiment is this:

  • Define an annoying task
  • Convince others they are good at it
  • Those others now feel pride
  • See what that does to other areas

Let me give you the results first:

People who were feeling proud of their abilities significantly increased their efforts on the difficult mental rotation task: they upped the time devoted to building their skills by 40 percent compared with people who weren’t proud. Intriguingly, self-efficacy didn’t appear to play a role. Those who believed they possessed the ability to succeed — people who received the positive score feedback without any social acclaim — didn’t persevere any longer than did those who received no feedback at all.

OK. So pride matters in terms of building skill sets. This could get interesting. Let’s keep moving.

Hubristic pride vs. Authentic pride

Those are the two polar opposite types of pride. Let’s frame up the difference:

Hubristic pride also tends to be associated with a fragile ego, and with anxiety and aggressive tendencies as people strive to keep up the illusion of competence and control. Authentic pride, on the other hand, is associated with increased social support, lower anxiety, and a greater desire to help others by sharing one’s expertise.

Hmmm. Which type seems more commonplace in the managerial ranks of most workplaces? I’d vote for the “H” one.

Start putting it together now

If you had a manager who talked to you, convinced you of where you excel, etc. — interacted with you and bolstered you, basically — you’d probably work harder. You’d feel authentic pride in your work and the manager would, ostensibly, feel authentic pride in his/her performance and yours.

Increased social support. 

Lower anxiety.

What often happens: managers claim they “don’t have the time” to respect their employees. 2 in 3 managers don’t engage with their employees’ career goals. Only 1 in 3 can name even a single strength of their direct reports.

How managers and employees communicate (i.e. don’t communicate) is often a massive train wreck.

Pride is not being passed along — and definitely not authentic pride.

Why does this all happen?

This is very complex psychologically, but I can try to sketch it for you a little bit.

Ever heard of halo effect? That means if a person is good at one thing, we assume they’re good at others. (We do it with ourselves too.)

This is a huge rabbit hole with management.

Here’s what can often happen: an employee is enthusiastic, or a kiss-ass, or checks boxes well.

None of these aspects mean they’re a good employee.

But the boss likes this — ass kissed, boxes checked — and responds favorably to this employee.

They then launch halo effect, and assume this person is good at a bunch of stuff.

So now you have Process Polly and Box Checking Ben running every major project for the team …

… and usually right into the ground.

What’s been conveyed here is Hubristic Pride tied to the Halo Effect.

When Ben and Polly become managers, what do you think will be most important to them?

The correct answer here would be “maintaining control.”

Why should we even care about pride in a work sense?

You spend a lot of time at work for a huge chunk of your life.

So, wouldn’t you want people to tell you that you were doing well, in an authentic way?

Wouldn’t that be nice?

And when we don’t have pride being conveyed, we fall into some other issues:

  • Respect
  • Trust
  • Turnover
  • Etc, etc.

The sheer fact is this: most businesses lose people because of stuff as basic as “No one ever talked to me or encouraged me,” and then somehow we let executives claim people leave because of salary.

That’s a bullshit excuse, largely cooked up so we can keep avoiding genuine moments with employees as we generate reports in some dashboard.

Can we fix this?

Sure, but we need to do a few things:

It’s not hard, but it’s very far from the core things most guys in a company want to focus on — slaying revenue dragons and generating spreadsheets — so it often falls by the wayside.

Alas.

But hey, if you’re a manager, go boost someone up today. And boost ’em up for genuine stuff they’re good at. Do it. It’ll work. They’ll work harder and care more. This is some legit science right here.

Ted Bauer

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