Being conceited can come from occupying a position of power. It’s easy to convince yourself that if you are in the driving seat it’s because you deserve it, because you are intrinsically better than others. This is a vicious circle of wrong assumptions.
If you are rich, you are better than the poor (even though you might have started out poor yourself). If you are born into the ruling class you are better than everyone else, forever. If you are a top manager then you deserve to command others and expect them to follow orders, especially if that’s the way you climbed the ladder. If you are a world leader, like Toyota and VW, then you can cheat and get away with it.
Until you can’t.
The sickness of separation
All these attitudes are the symptoms of a mindset built on some kind of vertical hierarchy. Everything works in a top down way and you have to “make your way up” to get ahead. The point is, all these symptoms reveal a sickness of separation, where individuals and even organizations believe they exist in a Newtonian, mechanical world where entities interact like billiard balls. This is no longer true. Our reality today is complex and complexity means we are all immersed in a network of interconnection where interdependencies exist. You can no longer just poke things around with a big stick. At best, you can influence a network.
A network of networks
We are evolving rapidly into a reality that is made up of a network of networks. This is our contemporary world and we are helped in our understanding by contemporary science, from physics to biology, where research is revealing more and more about complexity and networks. We no longer inhabit a reality where we can divide things up neatly into categories and silos. We live in a world of interconnection and power is increasingly a question of influence. The difference is that today the influence can also come from a broad base of communities, as the election of Obama illustrated. Another example is the Austrian student, Maximilian Schrems, who is taking on Facebook over privacy issues. His efforts have created a kind of movement that may well influence the regulation of access to, and ownership of, online information.
Leaders are not servants
Clearly, we need a different kind of leadership and different kinds of organizational structures to accommodate the way we now know reality works. Master and Commander is out. While the intention behind thinking of a leader as a servant is undoubtedly worthy, the language is inaccurate. Calling a leader a servant is just more traditional hierarchy speak turned on its head. However, leaders do need to be humble. Where does the humility come from? From understanding and knowledge. Understanding how organizations are in fact networks and knowing the principles, methods and tools it takes to orient the nodes, hubs and linkages of the network towards its goal. Leaders have the responsibility to enable the work of others.
VW, like Toyota, lost its way because they lost sight of what should have been their main concern as providers of safe automobiles and pursued greed instead. The lesson for leaders is that organizations are systems and as such they need to be managed systemically and led systemically, through collaborative efforts directed towards a precise and ethical goal. That is the only way to ensure sustainable prosperity.
To learn more about principles, methods and tools of systemic management for ethical and sustainable prosperity see also Ten Steps for Transformation: The Decalogue
About the Author
Angela Montgomery Ph.D. is Partner and Co-founder of Intelligent Management, founded by Dr. Domenico Lepore. Dr. Montgomery’s new business novel+ website The Human Constraint looks at how Deming and the Theory of Constraints can create the organization of the future, based on collaboration, network and social innovation.