I just heard an interview on the radio with Robert Epstein, the author of the book “The case against adolescence”. His basic point in the book is that we keep our teens from becoming adults and treat them too much as big children. It's not an argument for more freedom but an argument for more responsibility.
The author shows that teenagers have more capabilities than most grown ups are willing to admit.
We coddle our teenagers too much and treat them as if not capable of making sound decisions for themselves. We treat them as stupid. And guess what? That's how they start acting.
So, are they acting irresponsible and stupid because they are or because we made them that way?
Based on the findings of Epstein and my own experience in the “grown up” - world I argue the latter. There is a more universal principle at work here: The principle that if you treat someone a specific way that person will start acting that way. Call it a self-fulfilling prophecy by proxy..
In my encounters in the business world, the world of management, the workforce, I've come across a lot of “reap-what-you-sow” situations. Managers, bosses and supervisors complaining about their irresponsible, untrustworthy staff while not noticing that they themselves are more than anything else the cause for this behaviour.
I once had the pleasure of attending a role playing management game with a twist that proofed this point very clearly. It was one of those games where a simple case was presented with different functions/roles to be played by the participants. It was an airplane manufacturer with a sales manager, an hr manager etc. Each of the participants was given a short (not all the same) description of the situation and a description of the role and responsibilities of the person they were to play. So far nothing out of the extraordinary. The twist was that each of us got a cap and on that cap the facilitators attached a sticker with a character description. It was a short one or two letter description of the type of person we were. The catch was that no-one knew the description. The added instruction was that we had to treat the other participants as per the sticker. We were not to tell the others about the description on their caps.
So there was 'a flirt', 'a comic', 'a tyrant', 'an indecisive guy', and a whole bunch other. And do you know what happened? Within the hour everyone was acting more or less as described on their caps. So the crabby gal was really crabby, the dumb guy was acting dumb and the bossy clerk was bossing everyone around.
I know that this not a scientific exercise but it has learned me very clearly that the old saying “As you sow so shall you reap!” is very true. Especially when applied to dealing with people.
If you treat your people like imbecils don't be surprised when they start acting like that.