The Mythology of the Black Business Executives

2014-01-09 14:33

To have power in human affairs means you are positively relevant. Power confers significance. It is potency and it is about having real positive and lasting influence. Power is the ability to command obeisance and to enforce one’s will and shape human society for the better. To have power and lack significance and influence brings in a deep sense of sadness.

Large business corporations have become part of our lives. And universities and other educational training centers are designing and positioning their courses geared at meeting the needs of the perfect corporate worker, specialist and manager. With the power of large business corporations looming large in society there is also a fascination with the corporate business executive. Corporate business executives are seen as social forces, movers and shakers, and leading models of success and prestige.

A few years ago while still doing my graduate business degree - Masters of Business Administration Degree (MBA) to be precise - in one of my management science research project I sought to look and develop insights at this phenomenon of the rising prestige and honor of the corporate business executives. I sought to look at it from a wide broad range of different perspectives, with the view of weaving together a comprehensive representation of what it takes to “succeed”, in the way of skills, commitments, attributes, personal strategies and mental frame, observance of organizational rules and codes of institutional behavior, including required educational background. In short I sought to look at what is required to get ahead or move up the corporate ladder and become a senior manager or top executive.

Since then through (a process of time) my personal practical experiences and personal contacts with top business executives I have developed, solidified and synthesized what I knew about the corporate business executive in large corporations. And that practical knowledge has enabled me to develop unique insights in the role of the black business executive in this country specifically.

What I have learned and observed is that black business executives are constantly expected to maintain a cheerful demeanor of piety and submissiveness as well as total loyalty toward the corporation. They are expected to be at all times absolutely and strictly logical and must not display in a humanly way their own African way of upbringing and perspectives. Simply their natural attributes are sucked or suffocated and are not permitted to intrude into or infuse the daily business operations.

Their total absorption and energy all day long is submerged in the given task at hand, which for you to do is following rigid established rules, codes of behavior, workflows and procedures on how to do the task.

Within this context the Black business executive dares not disagree or differ from the established organizational systems and codes of behavior, even when his or her own reason nullifies the adoption of such systems. He or she is simply expected to swallow the prevailing opinions of the colleagues hook, line and sinker.

All these dehumanizing affair and pretenses leads to an unhealthy air of vague darkness and empty sadness that is difficult to comprehend or articulate but you know that it is there and it cannot be wished away.

And that is not enough:

Another big challenge the Black business executives face is that they must learn to work out a tolerable relationships with their people in the various organizational layers below them – and these people are mostly black like them who are a little more free and open because they have labor unions standing up for them. The majority of the junior staffers and general workers in these business corporations still have the remnants of power to stand up and protest unlike the Black executives. So the expectations are that the Black business executive should “tackle” them, and what you get is “tag and pull” frustration and antagonism for the Black business executive.

And to some degree this whole issue seems not only related to black executives only, but is a general thing in organizations. I once attended a session of high-end business executives. During that meeting one of the major speakers to the event commented as a matter of fact that business corporations tend to stifle boldness, creativity and initiative. What most surprised me and hit me on the chest with full force is that not one of the top executives in the room stood up and challenged that statement. It seemed that what was said was normal gospel to them; a reality that they know exists and accepts.

Corporate business executives like to present themselves in society and social circles as lions, tigers and big shots, but this in most of the times is just pretense and masking their reality. The role they play tends to be more and more passive; mostly their thought perspectives and recommendations are simply washed away and ignored. They are led and moved around meekly from one role to another just like you lead a child or a horse around.

Most of them are even divorced from developments and innovations breaking up in their corporations. They are simply all purpose generalists tied up by a whole myriad of tough minded level headed colleagues, specialists and consultants around them who wield supreme power. And so the black business executive lives in a little dark sad world in the corporation and is often out of touch not only within the corporation but also with what is happening in society at large because of the high premium placed on corporate loyalty, submissiveness and conformity that is dehumanizing.

But at the personal level the great majority of Black business executives I encountered impressed me with their good will and the deep need to contribute and shape society for the better. They are decent individuals and are intelligent with cool nerves and a deep concern for the plight of the masses of their fellow Africans suffering in severe poverty in townships and squatter camps. But they are imprisoned, so they have resigned to a situation where they just swim with the tide receiving huge salaries and supporting their immediate families.

I remember when Nelson Mandela was still president of the country; he was so frustrated and sickened by the docility condition of the Black business executive in South Africa’s corporations and that he finally dismissed them in a TV interview as “they are just tokens”.

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