From rankism to dynamic dignity

The privileges and abuses of rank are shifting. Find out what that means for you personally and professionally. 

Pulling rank isn’t cool anymore

Beyond the rank of age

I recently mentioned to Layla, the bright 19 year-old who cleans our house occasionally, that I was taking a break from writing my book even though the deadline was close in. I explained that I often speed up my creative process by slowing down. Layla responded that she applies the same process to her housecleaning. We proceeded to engage in what felt like a conversation among peers about our respective crafts.

It was a kind of synergetic sharing that I find rare even with those who share my profession of writing and speaking. I find some authors and speakers are either busy letting me know how important they are, or how important they think I am. Layla brings a similar consciousness to what she does that I bring to mine, which she shares innocently. Our conversations are unimpeded by rankism.

Rankism is the antithesis of synergy

Wikipedia says Rankism is a term coined by physicist, educator, and citizen diplomat Robert W. Fuller to refer to the “abusive, discriminatory, or exploitative behavior towards people who have less power because of their lower rank in a particular hierarchy.” It’s treating the CEO with respect and treating the janitor with disregard. It’s using rank to justify insulting or humiliating others, or obtaining favors. It involves pulling rank, or asserting power to maintain dominance.

And rankism is on its way out. Women, Gen Y, social media and globalization really are changing the way we relate, influence and succeed. The new Dynamics of Communication call for synergy that is not possible when rankism reigns. 

Generation changes everything

Our elders respected power and authority. The boomers rebelled against it. The young generations are oblivious to it. This is why a young worker will tell an elder he or she is wrong, and Layla will embark on a conversation I initiate about writing without any thought that her contributions would not add value. Thank goodness for that.

The many faces of rankism

Rankism is often more subtle than bullying someone of lower rank. It commonly takes the form of dismissiveness – like people who put the burden of maintaining contact on other people, or mentioning credentials to undermine someone else’s point. It can be expecting to go first if you and a junior get to the front of the checkout line at the same time, or interrupting because you think what you have to say is more important.

In management, rankism can take the form of bloviating because you think someone below you in the hierarchy is too captive to object or too stupid to be able to think for themselves. Rankism often is invisible to those with higher rank and glaringly obvious to everyone beneath them on the organizational chart. It can take the form of denying you are ever wrong, knowing (or at least believing) that those “under you” have to take it.

In performance reviews rankism can take the form of judgment that does not allow for input. It can take the form of blaming subordinates (I hate that word) for not meeting objectives you never made clear.

In marriage it can take the form of imposing your own definition of what a relationship should look like on your spouse.

Good-bye rankism, hello individual dignity

Overcoming rankism doesn’t mean we whitewash all the differences or overlook the skills we have acquired. I don’t abandon the wisdom I’ve acquired in my many more years than Layla has been around. However, I also don’t overlook the freshness of her perception and the brilliant radiance she brings to what she does.

Overcoming rankism doesn’t suggest you can’t hold employees accountable for their performance. It does suggest you involve them in determining how to do that.

Tips to overcome rankism

My own rankism is embedded and still shows its ugly head at times. Here are some tips for you to remember when you encounter your own rankist behavior.

1) Partner with the people you interact with regardless of social structures.

2) Pay individual attention to others and adapt your styles, expectations and ways of relating to their unique needs, talents and styles.

3) Invite input from experts and non-experts.

Overcoming rankism is a simple matter of dignity and respect. We honor brilliance and excellence wherever we find it. We let our light shine and invite others to do the same, take what they give us, and create a magical synergy.

Imagine the possibilities.

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