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A call to action: Don’t be a ‘rankist’!

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

by Mike Clark-Madison

What's a "rankist"? Well, it's kind of what it sounds like—some­one who feels free to treat others with disrespect because of their lower rank in the hierarchy. I don't know about you, but this sounds like another entry in my (ever-expanding) file of "Management Tips I Learned in Kindergarten."

But apparently, anti-rankism is a cause that needs to be championed. A recent article by Boston Globe columnist Penelope Trunk ("Brazen Careerist") talks about the fight against rankism, part of a larger "dignitarian" movement devoted to the radical notion that people are people and deserve to be respected and treated well. Robert Fuller, who takes credit for the term "rankism," wants it to enter our vocab­ularies next to racism and sexism—and for us to shun the practice accordingly.

Don't get me wrong. I have no patience for rudeness (let alone for rac­ism and sexism), and have always believed that successful leader­ship means realizing the full potential of all your people—regardless of their status in the workplace. A manager who chews out the receptionist, but who would never dream of taking the same tone with a colleague, is simply a jerk. A boss who expects staff to work long hours for low pay, but who never pitches in to help, is a bad boss.

So sure, I'm on board with dignity. But my problem with rankism is that it underplays the fact that organizations have hierarchies for a reason, and that within any team or enterprise there will always need to be people who have different status. Racism and sexism are repellent because they're arbitrary—the discrimination and disrespect are responses to things that have no bear­ing on ability.

People's relative ranks in an orga­nization, on the other hand, often do reflect their ability to get certain things done. Where does one draw the line between rudeness and reasonable busi­ness decisions? If you give the new hire with the least skills the most boring work to do, is that rankist? Or is that common sense?

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