Sunday, August 17, 2008

Dee Hock on Leadership

I have been rereading a book titled Birth of the Chaordic Age by Dee Hock, founder and former CEO of VISA, in which Hock describes his experiences in pulling together one of the largest (if not the largest) credit card company in the world in 90 days. His story of finding order in chaos (living in a chaordic world) is both fascinating and inspiring.

But it is his philosophy about leadership, people, and management that draws me back to his work today. In this time of chaos in our world, our work, and our lives, his thoughts on leadership speak of character, trust, caring, and power – not power over people, but power that takes the organization to a higher level of dedication to service and ethics.

Here are a few quotes from Birth of the Chaordic Age (1999), published by Berrett-Koehler, Inc.:
Leader presumes follower. Follower presumes choice. One who is coerced to the purposes, objectives, or preferences of another is not a follower in any true sense of the word, but an object of manipulation. Nor is the relationship materially altered if both parties accept dominance and coercion. True leading and following presume perpetual liberty of both… (p. 67)

A true leader cannot be bound to lead. A true follower cannot be bound to follow. (p. 67)

The first and paramount responsibility of anyone who purports to manage is to manage self; one’s own integrity, character, ethics, knowledge, wisdom, temperament, words, and acts. (p. 69)

The second responsibility is to manage those who have authority over us: bosses, supervisors, directors (p. 69)

The third responsibility is to manage one’s peers – those over whom we have no authority and who have no authority over us – associates, competitors, suppliers, customers – the entire environment. (p. 69)

…[I]f one has attended to self, superiors, and peers, there is little else left. The fourth responsibility is to manage those over whom we have authority. The common response is that all one’s time will be consumed managing self, superiors, and peers. There will be no time to manage subordinates. Exactly! One need only select decent people, introduce them to the concept, induce them to practice it, and enjoy the process. If those over whom we have authority properly manage themselves, manage us, manage their peers, and replicate the process with those they employ, what is there to do but see they are properly recognized, rewarded, and stay out of their way? It is not making better people of others that management is about. It’s about making a better person of self. Income, power, and titles have nothing to do with that. (p. 70)

This does not mean that the leader has nothing to do. On the contrary, a leader’s job is complex and requires the dedication of mind, body and soul.

First and foremost it requires that a leader select decent people. These people must be ready to work in an environment where they are responsible for their own actions – they must manage “self”. They must choose accountability, and be ready to take on the challenge of being leaders within the organization from whatever position they may hold. They must have the courage to be part of a system, however chaotic it may be, where they are as responsible as their “leader” is for success.

Once these “decent” people have joined the organization and have accepted the mantle of leadership as described by Hock, the leader’s role becomes one of making space for the work to happen, (more on the concept of “making space” in a future blog entry). This involves not only getting out of the way, but also providing time, resources, information, and removing barriers so that the important work of the organization can get done.

Perhaps you have noted the connection between Hock’s approach to leadership and Koestenbaum’s theory of the Leadership Diamond. Hock is heavily invested in ethics – the caring for how your actions, or lack of action, affects others, character, and authenticity; and courage – the free will and choice involved in being a leader, choosing to start with managing “self”, and playing a leadership role regardless of your place in the hierarchy.

There is a great deal in his writing that any leader might find helpful and inspiring in times when chaos threatens to engulf the world.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Seeds of Change

Just before the turn of the century (the 21st century) a number of leadership-gurus started turning heads by talking about the organic nature of organizations, and how traditional theories of organizational change were proving to be wrong. One of these leaders was Margaret Wheatley who, in her book Leadership and the New Science, said:
The dominant world view of Western culture – the world as machine – doesn’t help us to live well in this world any longer. We have to see the world differently if we are to live in it more harmoniously. Leadership and the New Science, (p. 172), Margaret Wheatley, 1999
She went on to say that an organization’s “…behaviors don’t change just by announcing new values. We move only gradually into being able to act congruently with those values.” (p 130-131)

This view of organizations as something other than machines was also expressed by Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline and the Dance of Change.

In an article (Learning for a Change) published by Fast Company Magazine in May 1999, Senge brought his view of the organic nature of companies to the casual reader. He said:
We need to think less like managers and more like biologists. …Companies are actually living organisms, not machines. …Perhaps treating companies like machines keeps them from changing… We keep bringing in mechanics – when what we need are gardeners. We keep trying to drive change – when what we need to do is cultivate change.
If we approach our organizations as mechanical systems we develop high level leaders who drive change through formal, top-down change programs. If we approach our organizations as living systems we develop leaders at all levels who approach change as a natural part of the growth of the company.

Senge goes on to point out that in nature “nothing that grows starts large; it always starts small." In his view, in the natural world, “…no one is in charge making the growth occur. Instead, growth occurs as a result of the interplay of diverse forces.”

These forces are not under the control of any one person including the person at the top of the organizational structure, the “leader.” They are the natural forces that exist within every organization.

In Senge’s opinion, we often “use the word 'leader' to mean 'executive': The leader is the person at the top. That definition says that leadership is synonymous with a position. And if leadership is synonymous with a position, then it doesn’t matter what a leader does. All that matters is where a leader sits.”

Historically we have assigned to the leader the power to make organizational changes, to take an organization in a certain direction, or to know what changes are needed even when the people within the organization can’t see the need for change. The leader was seen as all-powerful and all-knowing. Change efforts were directed from the top, handed down from on-high and, more often than not, doomed to failure.

If all that matters is where a leader sits, there is little hope that strong leadership will be found at the line level, where leadership is most important.

The Wheatley and Senge research tells us a number of important things about organizations:
  • We must view organizations as organic rather than mechanical structures.
  • Change comes about through growth from inside the organization rather than through a mechanical repair of existing systems.
  • To quote Senge, “Just as nothing in nature starts big; the way to start creating changes is with a pilot group – a growth seed.” Start small.
  • For these seeds of change to survive and grow, organizations must have line leaders (people at the heart of the value-generating process – who design, produce, and sell products; who provide services; who talk to customers) who will nurture and care for the change efforts.
  • Meaningful and lasting change comes from inside the organization.
  • The planting of seeds in areas that are surrounded by gardeners in the form of committed and motivated people is much more likely to result in lasting change than programs that are the result of top down efforts.
Those of us who are trying to bring new ways of thinking into an organization will do well to bear in mind the organic nature of change. Whether your goal is to bring the Leadership Diamond into the decision making process of your organization, or to change a process or service that results in improved customer satisfaction and a better bottom line, every change effort should consider the value of planting seeds, and developing line leaders who act as gardeners.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Good Society

During the last few thousand years, philosophers and authors have tried to define the role of government in creating The Good Society. These great thinkers struggled to define the perfect social system and the quality of life experienced by the people that lived within the systems they envisioned. Their approaches differed, and the quality of the resulting societies changed based on the values held by each of the philosophers.

In his book The Executive's Compass – Business and the Good Society, James O’Toole provides an interesting overview of several thousand years of philosophical thinking about The Good Society, and which of those societies might be best for humanity. O’Toole says:

  • To Aristotle, it [the good society] permits some of its members to live “the good life.”
  • To Hobbes, it provides sufficient order to allow material progress.
  • To Locke, it guarantees life, liberty and property.
  • To Rousseau, it preserves as much as possible of the conditions of liberty and equality that humankind enjoyed in “the state of nature.”
  • To Adam Smith, it has nearly absolute economic freedom.
  • To Thomas Jefferson, it consists of people who live in small-scale, rural communities characterized by a high quality of life.
  • To Alexander Hamilton, it consists of people who live in modern industrial cities characterized by a high standard of living.
  • To Marx, it has nearly absolute economic equality.
  • To J.S. Mill, it allows nearly absolute social freedom.
  • To Harriet Taylor Mill, it allows women to enjoy the equality of opportunity with men.
  • To Weber, it is governed by laws, so that no citizen is treated arbitrarily.
  • To Martin Luther King, it guarantees the “natural rights” of all its members, without regard to their race, sex, religion, or class.

(p. 19-20, The Executive's Compass – Business and the Good Society, James O’Toole, 1993)

How can there be so many different definitions of what constitutes The Good Society?

Perhaps the answer can be found by applying some of the principles of the Leadership Diamond.

The Ethics point on the Diamond gives us some insight into this question. From an ethical perspective, every philosopher defined The Good Society based on an underlying set of values and assumptions about how people within a society should be treated and live. Their underlying ethics and values shaped their thoughts about the quality of life people within the society should experience. Their underlying ethics and values also helped each philosopher clarify his or her thoughts about equity and justice.

When we see that it is possible for so many thought leaders to differ widely on the definition of what constitutes The Good Society, it should come as no surprise that governments across the country, and around the world, have difficulty agreeing on exactly how government should behave to create what is best of the community.

Perhaps the answer is that there is no single Good Society, and to recognize that there are many societies that may be chosen by a community to serve its needs. Perhaps what is necessary is for the community to invest the time and effort to first define its values, and to use those value statements to help define the vision of what it is they want to create as a result of their efforts. Once defined, perhaps the role of government is to reflect the ethics and values of the community in its effort to live within The Good Society.

What are your thoughts on The Good Society, and the role of government in its creation?