Sunday, October 26, 2008

Regarding: The Polarity of Leading in Social Systems vs. Political Systems

The following story was posted as a comment to the blog entry titled "The Polarity of Leading in Social Systems vs. Political Systems". I thought this was a good example of trying to lead within social and political systems, so I have moved it from the comment section to a full blog entry. I hope you find this story interesting.

Bob, thanks for taking the time to share this experience with us.


I read with great interest, your posting of 9/27 on "The Polarity of Leading in Social Systems vs. Political Systems" in the Leadership Diamond Blog.

You posed the following question:

"Do any of you have opinions about how a leader who finds him or herself within a "political system" can succeed using the leadership concepts and models we have discussed in this blog?".

The definition of success in such an environment, may differ from more traditional definitions. If you will indulge some personal history, I will attempt to explain how success turned out for me. Perhaps it will be helpful to others.

I held a middle-management position in a "political system"-driven organization for about seven years. For the first five years, the company was privately held, owned and headed by an idividual and later acquired by a publicly held company who owned and operated it for the last two years I was there. No matter who owned it, it remained a very political system.

For the vast majority of those seven years, the company grew about 30% each year and experienced an employee turnover rate of 33-40% per year, a good percentage of those being terminated by the organization.

The turnover rate among my staff, I consider to be near zero. We lost one young staff member to a tragic automobile accident, and one other because her spouse was transferred to another city due to a reorganization at his company. None left by choice or by force.

My mission, with regard to my staff, was to provide an environment for them to succeed by insulating them as much as possible from the negative environment of the larger organization. I placed myself in between to channel "the bad stuff" to me and "the good stuff" directly to them.

The examples you cite contrasting social systems with political systems rang true for me. You quote:

"Within Political Systems:

Feedback: Never trust positive feedback from immediate boss, there will always be a “price tag” included. Trust third-party feedback but not from direct supervisor."

I was fortunate in that I could trust my boss to a greater degree as he was a person of good character. But only so far, as his own survival was at stake as well. For survival, it was imperative to develop a trusted peer network for information. The more data points, the better. Those relationships were developed incrementally over time as you learned who was trustworthy and who was not. It amazes me to this day how quickly information could flow in the event a storm was brewing.

"Decision Making: Never make decisions until the last possible moment. Keep your options open."

Yes. And I would further add, make no decision unless you're forced to. Things that stick out, tend to get chopped off.

I was not familiar with Dr. Koestenbaum's work then. Having more knowledge of it now, I believe that by applying the principles of the Leadership Diamond, one can be "successful" doing the right things in one's sphere of influence.

If these principles are not valued at the management level of the organization, though, I am not convinced that one can accomplish this long-term. Unless the "top" is willing to change, you'll eventually be plowed under by the organization's true values.


Friday, October 10, 2008 1:07:00 PM