Status management is the process of playing zero-sum status games within an organisation. Status management is succinctly described in this post.

Our reactions are often motivated by how each of us wants to “fit in”, which is an individual objective in the emerging status and not necessarily on how to impact the change, which is a group objective.

Daniel Coyle illustrates this well comparing how business school students and kids perform in the spaghetti tower design challenge:

The business school students appear to be collaborating, but in fact they are engaged in a process psychologists call status management. They are figuring out where they fit into the larger picture: Who is in charge? Is it okay to criticise someone’s idea? What are the rules here? Their interactions appear smooth, but their underlying behavior is riddled with inefficiency, hesitation, and subtle competition. Instead of focusing on the task, they are navigating their uncertainty about one another. They spend so much time managing status that they fail to grasp the essence of the problem (the marshmallow is relatively heavy, and the spaghetti is hard to secure). As a result, their first efforts often collapse, and they run out of time.

Status management is confessing other people's sins, politicking, rivalry between people or departments, conflicts, protecting one's backside, masterminding, and second-guessing.

Working with status management is like trying to drive with one foot on the gas and another on the breaks. Instead of putting the foot off the break, most people try to add more gas. They try to apply more pressure, eloquence, logical information to strengthen their position.

Ways to reduce status management

Positive-sum games

Play them instead of managing status.



‣: Whether we are talking about the president of the United States, a CEO, or mid-level manager, it is important to recognize that nobody has all of the answers. In a meritocracy, great leadership is not about having great ideas, it is about ensuring the best ideas emerge. It is up to the executives and managers to set the tone of the workplace and encourage an environment that promotes listening and sharing.