Inside Track LINDA MALLON
trUe Confessions: i was busted in the third grade for muttering under my breath about the teacher.
She and I never got along, probably because she was determined to teach me long division and I preferred to spend that
portion of my school day as additional free-reading time, a book
propped open on my knees under the desk. When she called me
on it—in front of the whole class—I was smart enough not to
be openly subversive. But, I didn’t appreciate the extra attention and may have indicated that sub voce. This was dutifully
brought to the attention of my parents on back-to-school night,
at which point, as far as I was concerned, it was game on. For
the rest of that school year, our skirmishes were regular and
my victories few (and pyrrhic since, to this day, I’m deficient in
the finer points of long division). But I was determined to exercise the freedom of speech (well, freedom of muttering) that my
American forebears had bought with their blood at Valley Forge.
We residents of the land of the free and the home of the
brave pride ourselves on our independent spirit. We like the
idea of our representative democracy, even if it sometimes
pains us. We love the notion that we are free to move about
the country (or the world), making our livelihoods as we
please. And we worship our right to hold an opinion and,
moreover, to express it (even if only under our breath).
But, if you think about it, most of us spend the majority of
our sentient hours each day in a structure that is anything but
democratic. Corporations (big and small), associations, shops,
factories, even classrooms and families, are oligarchies, at best,
and dictatorships, at worst. While most of us are fortunate to
work for bosses who are reasonable, even the most benevolent
manager or teacher has a point after which the response simply
will (or must) be: My way or the highway.
I don’t claim to be the first with this insight. Scott Adams (of
Dilbert fame) and the producers of the award-winning television
series “The Office” have all made highly remunerative lemonade
out of that particular lemon. But while we laugh at these caricatures of corporate governance, how often do we seriously consider
how best to manage ourselves (as a boss, as an employee, or both)?
In his thought-provoking discussion of the writings of
Niccolò Machiavelli (whose name is most often invoked as
a negative adjective, if not an outright epithet), Carlos Sanchez-Fuentes makes the point that most workplaces aren’t
democracies and then takes it several steps further. Is it possible that a wily survivor (but just) of the tumultuous and
ill-starred Florentine republic might have something to
teach us about corporate managerial and leadership skills?
You may or may not agree with Sanchez-Fuentes’ conclusion, but I guarantee that you will be intrigued by it. In
fact, you may be moved to write a letter to the editor. Please
do. You will notice in this issue that we have a particularly
robust letters section, fueled largely by reactions to Edwin
Hustead’s commentary on national health insurance in the
September/October issue and the point-counterpoint on
global warming that ran in the July/August issue.
I couldn’t be more pleased. I look on a full letterbox
not with suspicion or foreboding but as a solid indicator
that I’m doing my job. As editor of Contingencies, I’m
always on the lookout for articles that are interesting,
informative, topical, and well-written. They may also
be contentious, amusing, offbeat, or all of the above,
but as long as they are engaging, I’ll consider them.
You got a problem with that? Speak up.