Organizational Democracy: The New Model of Leadership

December 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

Some hierarchical organizations are collapsing around us. Greeks are protesting. Libya hunted down a killed Gaddafi. Egyptians threw out Mubarak. The Post Office is losing money and is reorganizing to reduce services to reduce costs. Nearly every state and municipality is financially challenged and some have even declared bankruptcy. Even our beloved USA is severely stretched financially with $15 trillion of debt and growing.
Why is this happening? One could make the case that faltering of the global economy is the major cause. I submit it is deeper than that. Our command and control leadership model is failing us and we are witnessing the symptoms of the past 150 years of its implementation. Hopefully, we are witnessing its demise.
What we have now
We have been taught an authoritarian leadership model for at least 150 years. The industrial age brought the need for mass production. Factories needed to make high volume of goods to ship overseas to fill the growing demand of a connected world. The uneducated workforce needed to be directed by managers. Only managers knew how to solve problems and how to direct and discipline workers. Workers were thought to be mindless and naturally lazy and that meant they needed to be controlled and incented by managers to get them to work. The main forces keeping people working, according to the industrial age manager, was the carrot and stick.
The need for mass production denied the need for a worker’s mind. Policies such as pay for performance and performance reviews were refined to ensure workers kept working. In preparation for the factory workforce schools were modeled after factories. Curriculums were created to give the key skills needed to work in factories. Curiosity in schools was unnecessary and even discouraged. Students instead only needed to fit within a certain model of behaviors. They were tested according to certain standards.
We still have this model today. It too is not working. The hierarchy in schools is delivering an average 25% drop out rate and the need for colleges to do remedial skills training in order to prevent drop outs.
What we need
Growing up I would often receive “hand me down” clothes form my brother. They were often too large at first and eventually I grew out of them. Although they were useful for a while I eventually needed to discard them because they just did not fit. The same is true for our hierarchical command and control management model. We have outgrown it.
We are transitioning into the knowledge economy. The mass production is making way for customization. Being managed by others is making way for self-management. Being told the answers is making way for creating our own solutions. We now need every heart and every brain to be engaged to solve the complex problems in today’s knowledge economy. We now need everyone to be capable of self-management.
We can see evidence of success of this model in the extremely popular social networks. Social networks are self-organizing and self-managed systems. Social networks such as Facebook and Linkedin are examples of self-management and optimum freedom of choice. People in these social networks are free to opt-in because they share the same interests and objectives.
Organizations need to be more like social networks. This will require people to follow basic principles while being given optimum freedom of choice. Organizational Democracy will take many of the same characteristics of a social network. Optimum freedom of choice within a context of specific principles will begin to define an Organizational Democracy.
How we can begin to create Organizational Democracies
We need to first agree on solid principles that will allow people optimum freedom of thought and action while managing optimum relationships and trust. Three principles that provide an excellent start are:
First, the context is the most important element of performance. Leaders must take responsibility to create a context that allows for optimum freedom and encourages self-management with positive conflict (not negative conflict). This requires clear vision, mission, and values along with a clear understanding of self-management and how it can change the role of managers and employees.
Second, in an organizational democracy, the quality of the interactions is more important than the quality of the individuals. Managers and employees must accept the joint responsibility to manage the quality of their interpersonal interactions and their system interactions. Interpersonal interactions are those that occur one-on-one. This requires a clear understanding of emotional intelligence and the skills that accompany it.
System interactions refer to how processes work. Everyone must understand how to manage the variation in their processes and in their connections between organizational functions. They must be able to understand how to study and improve processes which work between people and between functions.
Third, trust and relationships are as important personal performance. Everyone must accept the responsibility to manage the variation in trust. Trust is a key component of self-management and organizational democracy. Everyone must begin to understand how to create trust and how to repair trust. This requires everyone to know how to manage relationships.

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