Thrown Under The Bus

People work in groups or teams. That’s how society works, this is how things are organized. It’s important to work together so as to achieve something greater than we can achieve working alone. And necessarily, someone has to be the responsible or the boss, and the others necessarily have to be the supervised or the leaded ones. This gives structure to a team or group, this helps its functioning. If everyone remains equal to the other, there is no organization and no efficiency. If everyone wants to be the boss, this also leads to chaos because there is nobody left to do the basic work. This is how things are and there is nothing we can do about this.

Necessarily also, there is a hierarchy: several groups or teams have team leaders that gather in teams made only by these team leaders. Often in a big company or institution there are several levels of decision and responsibility, several hierarchic levels. You cannot avoid this kind of organization if you want to build big things or you want to manage something huge. But at each hierarchic level there is an unwritten rule that the leader protects the interests of his team and is also completely responsible for his team. Success or failure is his responsibility, making people to work together or weaving them in a coherent functional system is a core attribute of his leadership position. Not being able to put people together and get results means that you are not good as leader.

Now, this is theory. And it has rarely something to do with practice. In real life, only the part about making people to work together is true. How you do this, by what means, is open to interpretation. Assuming responsibility for the wellbeing of your team is optional and… rather rare. Getting results is paramount. Nobody asks how you get those results as long as you get them. It is cynical and it is true: nobody cares about you as long as they achieve what they want from you. Period.

Throwing someone under the bus is a peculiar way of describing a common phenomenon: betrayal. It typically happens when a team leader, instead of protecting his subordinates, prefers to sacrifice them for his own benefit. It’s a survival reflex of a team leader who is acting like a cold-blooded animal, following his own lust for power and life, his own instincts. At a basic level, this is natural. The strongest individual wins and the weak one dies or becomes an outcast. At a human level however – using morality, which is and sounds weird – it is better to assume responsibility and protect your subordinate, wining his loyalty. In the long run, you can do fantastic things with a dedicated team that feels protected. You can create a lasting impact, a story to be told, and more importantly, you create new leaders.

An aging boss, who has no one capable to leave in his place before departing, is likely someone who didn’t nurture young leaders. He is someone who has betrayed everyone so as to cling to power and have it all for him alone. But as time passes – and time is everyone’s worst enemy – he must relinquish the ephemeral position he so dearly held. Often, he must be removed by a new leader, even more cynical and aggressive than him. Why? Because in the meantime, the team got used to cynicism and betrayal and power fights, and kindness sounds and feels peculiar to them. The known is preferred to the new almost all the time, and not everyone is comfortable to exit their comfort zone and get accustomed to something completely new, even if it’s perhaps in their interest.

Throwing someone under the bus can happen in many forms. One typical way is blaming the subordinate for not doing what he is supposed to do, while inviting the hierarchically superior boss to do justice and punish the subordinate. This means letting the superior do his leadership work, that is, letting the superior to manage what the boss should have managed in the first place. If the superior is aggressive and enjoys showing his muscles, he will be tempted to punish the subordinate that is 2-levels below him. If the superior is wise – which is rare – he will directly question the ability of the boss to lead and solve his problems, that is, manage his team. Occasionally, bosses are fired for this. Often, the superiors do the dirty work that should have been done by the boss because they are unaware that they are manipulated. It’s only about how skillful the boss is… and how weak his superior is…

I come from a place where throwing the other under the bus is so frequent that it has become the norm and I am particularly sensitive to any similar behavior. I have witnessed the consequences of betrayal both at the social level but also at family level; everything felled apart and became a ruin. Even if the appearance is important and a good-looking mask can fool many, the reality has shown that, in the long run, it is better not to throw others under the bus. Neither your fellow citizen, nor your co-worker or business partner, nor your own partner or your own child. So that the human society can continue to be civilized and not descend into anarchy and ruin, you must remain a model for the future generation.

It is, and always remains, a choice.

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