team building and leadership expert michael cardus

Pessimistic misconceptions of people at work have hog-tied us all. These misconceptions have arisen from the observation of how people behave, understandably, within badly flawed managerial leadership systems.”

-Elliott Jaques “Social Power and the CEO”

Why do people work? Why do you work?

The more we wonder why people work, the more we find psychological and mythical un-truths. Unfortunately, when we ask executives and managers ‘why people work’, some are operating off false folklore theories that lead them to treat employees as less than capable—leading to inward spiraling doom loops of asphyxiation.

Once, as a manager, you begin to view people in the following 10 Misconceptions, it impacts your perception of respect and pay. Leading employees only further to exhibit the behaviors you believe.

10 Misconceptions About People At Work

  1. The view is that employees do work of value mainly because they have to, rather than out of any inherent sense of need and satisfaction.
  2. The notion that it is the individual employee rather than the employee’s immediate manager who should be held accountable for that employee’s work results.
  3. The assumption that employees are self-centered and greedy when it comes to compensation.
  4. The concept that labor is a commodity.
  5. The idea that the managerial hierarchy was useful for the “old economy” and has outlived its usefulness and will disappear in the new “E-conomy” of the electronic information age.
  6. The assumption that people need to be motivated by incentive bonuses to produce more.
  7. The practice of measuring people’s effectiveness by their results.
  8. The notion that some types of roles (sales, research, finance, etc.) call for a higher level of special personality qualities or competencies (initiative, social-ability, risk-taking, aggression, etc.) than other types of roles.
  9. The hypothesis is that human behavior is too changeable to be amenable to the rigorous, objective methods of measurement used in physics.
  10. The belief that you can get significant and lasting changes in people’s behavior only by changing the person’s psychological makeup and values.

– List is from Elliott Jaques “Social Power & the CEO” 2002


Each of the above misconceptions reinforces the bad and pervasive idea that people “Hate to work” and commit 8-10 hours a day we need some external motivation to work.

These beliefs are untrue, people find intrinsic value in doing great work, and all that can be expected is for people to do their best work. Any commitment that a person is willing to spend the greater part of their life pursuing and doing must have an inherit value that drives commitment to the work.

In short, the theme is that there is nothing wrong with the people: our problem is with the people systems; in other words, leave the people to be themselves, and give them good systems in which to carry out the work they are employed to do.

  • Which of the 10 misconceptions means something to you?
  • Which do you believe? Where does that belief come from?
  • From the one you believe, do you as an employee operate that way?
  • How would you work if that was not the case?
  • What would you do more of? What would be better about your work?
  • In what ways can you (as a manager) improve the system?
  • In what ways can you (as an employee) improve the system?

Want to improve your people systems and develop an organizational leadership culture that people point to as the reason for loving their work and the organization?