Poseidon, Greek mythology’s God of the Sea, had a son named Procrustes, who occupied a home along the sacred way between Athens and Eleusis where he offered hospitality to passing strangers. He would invite them in for a night’s rest in his iron bed. He bragged that his unique bed would be a perfect fit for anyone who slept upon it. What Procrustes didn’t tell his guests was that if they were too short for the bed, he would stretch them on the rack (“Procrustes” means “the stretcher”) or, if they were too tall, he would use his sword to modify their leg length. Thus the term “Procrustean bed” refers to any forcibly imposed limitation that seeks uniformity and abhors diversity; it manifests utter intolerance to what does not conform to a single-minded view or outlook, a complete disregard of individual differences or special circumstances.
An unconscious leader risks falling prey to this tunnel vision, which leads to arbitrarily, often ruthlessly and violently, forcing conformity with a system or method. Such a leader will promote a culture that tolerates no deviation or change, and into which employees are forced to fit. A strong company culture “this is the way we do things here”, affects productivity and morale, by forcing employees to artificially predetermined behavioral standards that discourage personal initiative and engagement, and ultimately employee retention.
Poor self-awareness translates into a growing chasm between formally promoted and celebrated skills in corporations, such as ingenuity, diversity, and creativity, and the actual intolerance to change or to accept a different point of view. When presented with conflicting information leaders will try to make fit that which they understand and lop off that which they don’t. And they would do the same with people.
The road to an increased level of self-awareness and empathy is pretty steep and long, and the starting point of personal growth should be acceptance. If we were to go anywhere we need to accept ourselves, accept the truth about who I am, with my flaws with my strengths with my weaknesses and with everything I am experiencing. It is a human tendency to agree with what we understand and conforms to our point of view. It is a virtue to accept conflicting information and outlooks, and not feel threatened by the unknown.
Artwork courtesy of FRG Gallery