The assault on the U.S. Capitol and all of the right-wing rhetoric about individual freedoms got me to thinking about some other related aspects of American culture. In the United States, there coexist two “schools” of how matters get accomplished.

The longer-standing one is an outgrowth of the myth of the rugged individualist, and today we see that modeled in the business world by entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos, and in earlier years of the Republic by others such as Thomas Edison, John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, Henry Ford, etc. All of them built supporting organizations, but those organizations initially existed to further the dreams and aims of the founder.

The other model has also been around for a time, but those following it tended to emphasize “team-work” or cooperation.

In fact, in the end, in terms of function, the organizational structures didn’t turn out all that differently, for a very simple reason. No large organization can be effective and survive without cooperation and teamwork.

What’s so often overlooked is a key element in success of organizations. That key element is the person or persons who hold everything together – call them “glue.” But “glue,” whether in holding furniture or physical objects together or in holding organizations together, seldom gets its due.

In any business, government entity, non-profit, or other organization with more than a handful of people, I’ve never seen much recognition of such individuals. I have seen great hoopla over a single achievement of an individual, who may never replicate that, but who continues to be rewarded, recognized, and promoted, often years after that single “flash in the pan,” but seldom much recognition of those whose quiet efforts produce more over time and who hold things together.

I’ve also seen continued quiet achievements of various individuals minimized, even when their combined results far exceed the single one-time brilliant accomplishment of another, far more highly recognized and paid, individual (individuals whom I personally mentally tab as “flashes”).

So why does glue so seldom get its due?

3 thoughts on “Glue”

  1. Michael Creek says:

    Because glue sticks.
    All too often the individuals that help make teams successful are not the individuals that constantly agitate for promotion, that if their talent is not recognised will go to other companies and so on. It’s not about ‘me’, it’s about ‘us’.

  2. Hanneke says:

    One theory: the loud and flashy ones get promoted. As leaders tend to hire and promote people like themselves, and succesful people value their own sorts of individual contributions highest (to bolster the rightness and individuality of their unusual succes, rather than accepting that luck, money and/or connections have played a part in achieving it), this tendency only grows stronger over time.

    Second theory, the other half of the coin: women’s work is structurally underappreciated, and women are often trained to be quietly productive and not try to attract too much attention to their achievements. In many teams they fulfill the role of the glue, which makes it easier to structurally undervalue their contribution.
    A woman who does demand recognition for her work is often seen as pushy and unsympathetic, not a team player, and then does not get the raise or promotion either.

    A third possible aspect is related to that.
    The invisibility and lower worth of “women’s work” spreads out to any men that do such work, as historical examples have shown – salaries and status of male secretaries and teachers declined when women became secretaries and teachers too, and male nurses earn less than men in comparable but more ‘masculine’ jobs.
    If the role of ‘glue’, smoothing the social interactions and workings of a team, and quietly beavering away, is seen as more of a woman’s role, any men fulfilling that role will suffer the diminishment of status and of being valued that goes with that (subconscious) classification, especially in the eyes of the more flashy and loud ‘macho’ men who like to try to pull the more eyecatching (leadership) roles.

  3. Grey says:

    One thing that I have seen, is that if you have a loud, bungling, incompetent in your group at work, the best thing to do is to get them promoted. As it is often more challenging to fire people, supporting their ascent can often be the easiest and fastest way to get them out of your hair so that you can focus on getting things done.

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