Stonewalling is bad management. It’s unprofessional. It’s not what a good boss or CEO does. It’s sometimes what a good military officer or emergency services chief does, when orders have to be obeyed promptly, but apart from emergencies, it’s not the way to supervise.
Another thing that’s bad management is springing things on people. It’s doing things in a high-handed manner when it would have been perfectly possible to do them with consultation and discussion and agreement. I talked about this some yesterday.
The problem here, if I understand it correctly, is that feminism is a big tent, and there are some woo branches of feminism. I don’t think the woo part is a very big fraction of feminism, but that could be because I don’t know enough about feminism as a whole, I know only the kind I like. Well we could have talked about that. We could have had a panel on it. It could have been interesting.
But we didn’t get that. Instead we got Ron springing his talk on everyone, clumsily lecturing us about something he doesn’t know much about, and sounding as if he thought we were going to crap on the furniture.
As many people have patiently (and not so patiently) pointed out, that’s just a very odd way to start a conference. Of course conferences deal with controversy and disagreement; many conferences are about nothing else. But that’s part of the planning; it’s not a bomb dropped as a surprise at the start of the conference. It’s on the schedule, it’s not a gotcha.
It’s very odd. Why was there no discussion beforehand? Why did he keep his talk a secret? How is that a reasonable thing for the boss to do at an organization that bills itself as for and about inquiry? I feel like Doctor Strangelove shouting at the ambassador, “But the whole point of the Doomsday Machine is lost if you keep it a secret; WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL THE WORLD?!”
Why didn’t you tell the world, Ron?! Explain your worries, suggest a panel on the subject, invite people familiar with the issues to discuss them.
Keeping it a secret is a very bizarre, paranoid, anti-inquiry, espionage-like thing to do. Do you think of us as the Soviet Union? Is it that bad? We’re not the Soviet Union. We’re not scary. (Well now we are. But whose fault is that, eh? I kid, I kid.)
It’s autocratic, is what it is, and it’s not good management to be autocratic unless you absolutely have to. I see no reason to think Ron absolutely had to be autocratic about this. The attendees and the speakers aren’t even his employees! He’s not the CEO of us, but he was autocratic to us as well as to the people who work for his organization. That’s hyper-autocratic.
And it didn’t turn out well. That’s why it’s not good management – it doesn’t work well. I’m sure schools of management teach this – don’t coerce people if you can persuade them instead. Don’t pick fights if you don’t have to.
A couple of simple changes, and it all could have gone better. Openness and discussion beforehand, discussion and availability afterwards. No autocracy and no stonewalling. We could all still be friends, and WiS2 would have gotten the discussion of its dazzlingness it deserved.