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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Tuesday 14 January 2014

Disruptive Leadership

Disrupt the features of hierarchies.

This is a concept that is hard for most of our leaders to wrap their heads around, because they fundamentally don't get the dynamics of hierarchies.  

It's all well and good for, say, Rob Ford to suggest the bureaucracy is the problem - it's hierarchical and uncreative - but, like Stephen Harper, he doesn't solve the problem by slashing jobs.  Instead, he creates a parallel hierarchy of courtiers that serve the same role of making themselves gatekeepers.

The choice doesn't have to be between opaque bureaucracy or a feudal court.  The only reason it is that way comes down to motivation.

When you have a system that defines success on increased access to restricted resources (money, private clubs, the corner office, important people or even information) then the very nature of success fuels a system that kills innovation.  

This is a biological inheritance; the strongest, prettiest male dominates and gets the healthiest, most fertile female.  Environment determines success and the less-adequate get eliminated from the gene pool over time.

In a top-down hierarchy, the dominate force (the boss) collects second-tier talent who seek to gain from access to the person above them, and so on down the line.  Those who don't measure up get discarded - in a work environment, through being fired.  Ambitious people will try to nudge their way up to where the field gets more competitive (and theoretically less collaborative).  

When a given player realizes they've reached their limit, though, they aren't going to risk losing what they have; instead, they stand put and entrench themselves.  This is the clay layer.

When the boss will only speak to senior staff and junior staff are told only to communicate with their direct superiors, it's inevitable that those in the comfort zone will stop or impede flow.  Similarly, when the people at the top assume they have all the answers and that their job is to message and direct, not listen and learn, there's no point for the bottom rung being innovative.  It's a lot of effort for nothing.

Which is, surprise surprise, why democracy is such a great system.  It theoretically creates a feedback loop where the people at the bottom (citizens) are bosses of the politicians who direct the bureaucracy who plan policy and deliver services to citizens.

It's a system that works when politicians, as leaders, do their job - which is put the people, not wins, first.  The same goes for those within the bureaucracy, but most importantly, the general public.

If the general public sees itself as always right, deserving of every individual advantage, then they aren't providing the right guidance and expectations to their politicians and the civil service.

If, on the other hand, people commit a bit of sociology, consider context and demand shared solutions, then that's what they empower all other leaders to do.  

This, then, is what we need to succeed - communication, a willingness to stretch our understanding and a collective commitment to making society work.

In social evolution, there is no top of the food chain - so lead from everywhere, people.

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