No One Is In Control

Dave Pollard has a fascinating essay up about Americans and our sycophantic ways. It’s mostly about how we’re duped by our political leaders, but he ventures into the business realm, as well.
First, he quotes best selling author, Peter Block:

“Leadership” is a well-developed misconception. The dominant belief is that the task of leadership is to set a vision, enroll others in it and hold people accountable through measurements and rewards. It’s a patriarchal system used to create high performance through centralization of power. Most leadership training focuses on how to be a good parent. We teach how to “develop” people, as if they were ours to develop. We do a lot to create the notion that bosses are responsible for their people. All that parenting has the unintended side effect of creating deep entitlement and having employees stay frozen in their own development. Most management techniques are ways of controlling people so they feel good about being controlled.
These are the most common questions I get from my clients. “How do I get people to …” and you can fill in the blank after that. My favorite is, “How do I get people on board with my ideas/visions/whatever?” My response is, “How do you know you’re in the boat?” These are the wrong questions. They’re the questions of a parent about recalcitrant children. As soon as you start the sentence, you’re acting as a sovereign. All of these are components of the patriarchal way of thinking that dominates our culture. Put this in boldface: They are not your children. Once you realize that, real engagement is possible.

Then Pollard offers his insight on Block:

Peter Block understands the essence of complex systems: No one is in control. What gets done (for better or worse) gets done as a result of the staggeringly complex interactions and personal decisions of everyone. Even in the most hierarchical organizations, far more energy is expended finding workarounds for incompetent management decisions and policies (without offending management, of course) than is spent implementing the odd intelligent insight that management, with all the resources at its disposal, ‘manages’ to come up with. Employees, and customers (who are often treated only slightly less paternalistically than employees), actually have almost all the good ideas that would be needed to make any organization much more successful, but it is taboo to listen to them, to even be accessible to them. That would make the leaders look weak, as if perhaps they don’t have all the answers. And that, of course, is unthinkable.

[via Robert Patteson]

About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative direction at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.