I Don’t Believe in Management

Power to the people

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Or rather, I don’t believe in management in the way that it’s practiced in most companies and organizations today. When I ran an organization, I don’t think I was a very good manager. Actually, I downright sucked some of the time. Over time, I got better but it was never something I loved. When I meet people who say that they love managing, I think that they are either a) unicorns or b) power-hungry maniacs.

So, why don’t I love to manage people? It’s not because I don’t like people–quite the opposite, actually. I have a deep love for people and humanity and I genuinely enjoy developing people and helping to think through problems.

Here are some of the reasons that I don’t believe in management and why I think we need a new paradigm for work.

1) I don’t like being told what to do and I bet you don’t either. Admittedly, I probably have a more obstinate and rebellious streak than most people, but I just really don’t like being given orders that I have to follow. Moreover, I didn’t feel that just because I had the formal authority of being “the boss” that it meant I knew what to do. Frankly, if you hire smart, capable people, they have a much better idea of what to do because they’re closer to the work.

2) The command and control model is totally inefficient. To the earlier point, the traditional hierarchy of the decision-making boss at the top is the same as a central committee making decisions about what crops to plant in far flung regions rather than letting people make sensible decisions for themselves and the greater good. It’s the Great Leap Forward all over again and we know how that turned out.

3) People are not dogs. Unlike Pavlovian dogs, people are not automatically driven by rewards and punishments. I can’t wave a check around or threaten with firing in order to get alignment. Short-term compliance does not equal long-term personal commitment to a vision. People have emotional and psychological needs and are far more complex than that.

4) Power dynamics. In any given situation, there are power dynamics whether you acknowledge it or not. What’s also true is that the more power you have, the less you are able to see how it impacts others positively or negatively. With great power comes great responsibility and I see very few cases of people who use that responsibility to serve, with humility and gratitude and without ego–myself included. Also, it just never seemed right to me that one person had the ability to control another person’s livelihood and destiny with the power to hire or fire.

So, where does that leave us?

I believe that we are at the beginning of a new paradigm of organizational model in which humans can live wholly and contribute fully to a mission borne out of their own personal commitment. I know that sounds very idealistic, but I don’t think we can go on like this. For one thing, millennials and Gen Z won’t tolerate it. For another, it never worked for anyone anyway–we just accepted that it sucked and got on with it. But the system is broken and we need to find ways to work together to accomplish great things using a different model.

First of all, we need to redefine leadership. I’m not bossing you around–I’m a leader because I’ve inspired your personal commitment to work towards a bigger vision. (Thanks, Fred Kofman!) That happens whether I’m the coach or the watergirl. You can lead from the bench.

We have to create workplaces where people feel that they belong and that they are contributing something to the world. We all want our lives to mean something, we want to be part of something bigger than ourselves and we want to learn and grow. How do we create environments in which that is possible?

We need different “rules” of governance, engagement and decision-making such that everybody feels like an owner. I used to lament that some of my employees didn’t act like owners in the business. Well, no wonder because they weren’t treated like owners. Is Holacracy the answer? Though flawed, I believe it’s a better model than any others we have.

I have more questions than answers on this point, but I’m deeply convinced that there has to be a better way for us to build organizations without crippling the souls of the humans who work there, without exploitation and without devaluing people by treating them like cogs in a machine. How do we create empathetic, human-centered places where we achieve great things together?


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