Everything you didn't learn in school that will help you survive the world of work. A place for newbies, for working moms, for seasoned professionals and "free agents" to share strategies, tips and tales from the trenches.

Jul 23, 2005

Are you in a Cult?

Session 4: Staying Grounded from 9 to 5

Instructor, Caroline Bender

Isn’t it great when you love your job? When you feel that “groove” of knowing exactly the right thing to say or do, how to motivate others toward your goals, and support others in theirs? How good you feel about yourself when you’re there…how you think about it when you’re not there…how it is the first thing you think about in the morning… and how sometimes when you can’t sleep at night, you try just a little of it, to help you unwind? You know… like alcohol

Perhaps your current employer, even your entire professional field, has that added component of charisma that convinces you that you are a better person because of your affiliation with them -- that others would be too, if they only knew the joy you know -- and that those outside this protective sphere should be avoided if they can not be converted.

You may wonder, as you peek over your usual lens at the world outside, whether you have stumbled into a cult.

Cult? or Culture?

I generally believe that your cult is what you make it. Most situations are not inherently cultish. For example, some people manage to have lunch with their girlfriends every Thursday, call each other by their given names, and wear whatever they like. Others require pseudonyms and specifically-colored hats.

The people of FactNet (Fight Against Coercive Tactics Network ) provide guidelines for identifying coercive environments. If these descriptions apply to your workplace, you may wish to get yourself a support group. (Keeping in mind, of course, that some of them turn out to be odd themselves.)

The guidelines are theirs; the commentary is mine.

Common Properties of Potentially Destructive and Dangerous Cults

The cult is authoritarian in its power structure

Of course most workplaces are authoritarian in nature – Management/Labor being the common division of most business environments. The coercive difference is how that power is used. "In a cult," says FactNet, " the [cult] leader claims to have the only and final ruling on all matters." When conflicts arise on the job, how high is the appeal allowed to escalate? How often are names dropped as a way of “getting to yes”?

The cult's leaders tend to be charismatic, determined, and domineering

Who doesn’t love charisma? Wouldn’t you rather work for a charismatic leader than a schlub? Charismatic and domineering… that is the danger sign. Let me reference my colleague’s earlier post on Predatory Mentors, in case you have forgotten.

The cult's leaders are self-appointed, messianic persons who claim to have a special mission in life

If you work in the “start-up” environment, you encounter founder/CEOS firmly convinced of their own PR. In the ivy-covered world of finance, publishing, insurance, energy, and the like, the family name carries clout.

If your company’s mission statement makes you roll your eyes and/or scoff, go ahead and mark this one yes.

The cult's leaders center the veneration of members upon themselves

Who is your charismatic figurehead most like: Disney…Oprah…Martha…Frank Perdue? It’s one thing to be a living brand; quite another to be the high priest of one’s own church.

The cult appears to be innovative and exclusive

Your exclusive “A-Player” club of the best and the brightest counts on you to increase the workforce by convincing your friends to change their lives and work there. So does the Army.

The cult tends to be totalitarian in its control of the behavior of its members

“Behavior” does not only mean modes of dress and call to prayer.The 3-martini lunch and strip club visit with the client is not dead. For us gals, it often manifests itself as smokes with the Boss, the office baby shower, ribald karoake at the Sales Conference, and good old-fashioned 12-hour days.

The cult tends to have a double set of ethics

It might be a different standard for executives than staff… for sales than for engineering… it may be that women are held to a different standard than men.When it is exposed, it is not usually denied. And you'll be expected to "get on board with it."

The cult has basically only two purposes, recruiting new members and fund-raising

Well, that pretty much defines any business, doesn’t it?

But don’t take my charismatic word for it. Research further with some of these suggested readings. Also watch this space for the Dean’s thoughts on fighting those Manipulators.
~~ CB

Suggested Reading:

21 Dog Years: Doing Time @ Amazon.com

Corporate Cults: The Insidious Lure of the All-Consuming Organization

The Organization Man

The Paranoid Corporation and 8 Other Ways Your Company Can Be Crazy: Advice from an Organizational Shrink

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