Many of us who have worked our professional lives managing and leading people have experienced cynicism. We’ve seen it in others, and if we look close enough, we’ve seen it in ourselves.
Although some may argue that cynicism in the right situational context can be neither wholly good nor bad; there is very little argument that cynicism in the workplace is healthy or beneficial. A cynical leader displays and generates ignorance, distrust, and close-mindedness which often results in leadership ineffectiveness.
Additionally, it is just as common in the workplace that employees are cynical of their leaders and of the organization as a whole, but the focus of this article is cynicism exhibited by leaders.
As leaders, how did we become so cynical?
As young managers and leaders, idealism preceded experience. Often, cynicism followed.
It starts innocently enough. As a manager, one of your employees’ calls in sick with the avian flu yet is spotted at the local sports bar, nursing that life-threatening ailment with a cold beer and some hot wings. The following week, another employee asks to leave early so they can take their child to see the doctor. Just so happens, the doctor wasn’t available but those great seats at the Taylor Swift concert didn’t go to waste.
Why are you so cynical? That’s obvious. You’ve been lied to. You’ve been let down more times than you can count. Politics and office betrayal are common. You’ve seen the worst in people. Because the next person is just like the last person, you decide those kind of people can’t be trusted. Or worse, people can’t be trusted.
Cynicism is a cleverly disguised expression of apathy and hopelessness. Cynics think they are sophisticated realists entitled and unashamed to demonstrate mockery, sarcasm, biting wit, and a know-it-all attitude. Furthermore, it’s cool to be a cynic; it’s edgy and fashionable. Turn on a cable news channel or listen to talk radio. The talking heads that seem to get the most attention and notoriety are the unabashed cynics. When we get cynical, we are often indulging in self-righteous attitudes and forming expectations that people should behave a certain way. This negativity can be contagious, bringing down those around us. It will lead us to alienate others, act in a hostile manner, or to become self-protective and isolated. All of which impedes our effectiveness as leaders.
How do you stop it?
Stop associating yourself with other cynics. Misery loves company. Surround yourself with positive and energetic people. If they don’t exist on your team, find and hire them.
LISTEN. Don’t jump to conclusions. That doesn’t mean give everyone the “benefit of the doubt.” Just listen and be open-minded before making assumptions.
Be skeptical, not cynical. Skepticism is very different than cynicism. In the workplace, skepticism and cynicism may look similar, but the differences are quite profound. A skeptic searches for a solution while a cynic only focuses on what’s wrong. Cynicism believes the worst of something or someone. It has nothing to do with evidence. It is an outlook on life.
Be curious and humble. You might have decades of experience, but don’t assume you have all the answers or have it all figured out (omnipotence is reserved only for a select few). Curiosity takes more effort than accepting the status quo, but it will also expand your mind.
If you’re a diehard cynic reading this article, odds are you barely made it past the first paragraph before deciding it was a worthless piece of garbage; written by an idiotic idealist (Idiot? sometimes. Idealist? rarely). If for no other reason, consider this; cynicism could be affecting your brain and your heart. If that’s not the case, then your cynicism is definitely affecting our brains and hearts.