Misguided Benevolence

On Thursday at my weekly Rotary lunch, I listened to Jathon Janove give an employer management presentation, which I found quite interesting. Janove has recently published several books on employment law-related matters, and works for Ater Wynne, a very good Portland law firm.

The most memorable concept Mr. Janove discussed was “misguided benevolence.” When he first used this phrase, I admit I was a bit skeptical, imagining he was a Ayn Rand disciple opposed to charitable acts. What Janove actually means by “misguided benevolence,” however, is that a manager may subconsciously shun difficult interpersonal interactions with employees, and explain it away as “being nice.” For example, if an employee is not performing a particular task very well, the manager may fail to bring the issue to the employee’s attention. The manager may justify this failure to take action under the guise of benevolence, but actually the motivating factor is fear of confrontation. The problem may then grow over time, causing the business organization, and its constituent employees, to suffer.

Having managed several different law offices since 2005, I can easily discern my own tendency to want to avoid difficult interpersonal interactions, although I am hopeful that I have, more often than not, overcome misdirected benevolence. In any event, it is something I will be more conscious of in the future . . .

1 thought on “Misguided Benevolence

  1. Kevin Massey


    “”Balls in the court of…”
    That’s why we show misguided benevolence. Spouses that have everything to gain, empoyee’s that have nothing to lose, government entities that have the power to take away.
    Who knows all the right moves to walk away better than they were?
    Who wants to fight all those battles?

    The term misguided benevolence can occur in the same context among clients and their legal representation as well. The interpersonal and financial barriers between the paying client and the demand weary lawyer can definately foster this form of giving in on both sides of the team.

    Where the economics of employee turnover and negative morale parrallel the legal relationship, many interesting insights can develop. For example, managers that try to hard to be personal with employee’s to create trust; causing more harm when things go wrong. In a client to lawyer parallel, clients also need thier lawyers trust.

    The same dynamics occur and can result in emotionally blocked subordinates (black and white thinking), when things go wrong. The catch 22 is that we ultimately may see less intuition, creativeness, risk taking, and real ground breaking decisions made when too little benevolence is taken for someones personal situation.

    Personally, what makes me admire a manager is their ability to understand and respond to what I am saying, even when I am hard to understand. That is the right kind of benevolence.

    In a legal relationship, a client may hold back from certain actions and communications in order to not lose control of the relationship with the legal representative.

    A good balance is hard to manage. It’s never black and white like the law.

    I hope your continued natural character to show benevolence is well directed!


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