Holding Employees Accountable – Blame Descartes

“I think therefore I am.”

Most people have heard this pithy piece of philosophy, but have little idea what it means, much less how it sowed the seeds for myriad management problems.

Today, you get to blame the 17th-century French philosopher who coined the phrase, René Descartes, for all your troubles. By understanding what he started, you’ll be better able to hold your people accountable.

Did Descartes know he was paving the way for so-called alternative facts, entitlement, and aversion to accountability? Probably not, I’m sure he meant well. “I think therefore I am” was a radical assertion at the time and the dawn of subjectivism in the west. The idea is that the only thing you can count on as being real is your own mental activity. Everything else could be an illusion.

It’s difficult for us to appreciate how radical an idea this was at the time. Descartes tread very carefully so as not to upset the omnipotent Catholic Church that basically ran all of Europe. Catholicism, after all, is an objectivistic religion. It’s power relied on people believing that the tenets of the church, heaven, and hell were very much real.

A Christian who puts their individual, subjective experience ahead of scripture is trouble, and not a Christian for long. Individualistic thinking like this led to the Protestant Reformation, as well as the French and American Revolutions. The rise of individualism shifted power and wealth structures throughout the western world. That is, it was a very big deal, and the freedoms we enjoy today we owe to Descartes and the philosophers that followed him.

But… it’s gone a bit too far. Have you noticed?

To me, the coining of the term “alternative fact” was as important as “I think therefore I am” as it in some official way marked the moment it had gone too far.

Have you ever tried to hold someone accountable and the person turns the issue back onto you and your perception of reality? Even when you’re the authority and have data to back yourself up?

You can blame Descartes for this now. Blame him for your difficulty holding employees accountable Feel better?

Okay, maybe not, but now that you understand this and can identify it, here’s what you can do.

Do not debate, defend, justify, or even reiterate facts. This is the mistake most journalists make today and they, in turn, legitimize the subjective deflection. Instead, you name the subjectivism. For example:

Manager: I noticed you’ve been a little late recently.

Employee: Oh, is that how you’re perceiving it? I’m getting all my work done.

Manager: I see, so you’re questioning my perception of reality?

The employee has already, in context, attacked the manager’s grip on reality (kind of like calling CNN “fake news”) To ignore this and debate the content of what work is getting done or whether they actually are late is ineffective. Yet this is what most managers do, not realizing what kind of deflection they’ve encountered, what I call the “Appeal to Subjectivism.”

But now you know, and knowledge is power. Want to learn more about how to hold people accountable? Learn more with my FREE eBook, Cut the Bullshit.

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