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.