23 July 2009

EMD X: UCaPP Leadership: The End of Embodied Leaders

If you have arrived at this post directly, and are not familiar with my research, you may want to also visit some of the posts under the Valence Theory and Thesis labels, as well as reading the very quick primer.

One of the common reactions that I receive to the notion of collaborative, consensus-oriented leadership that typifies a UCaPP organization is that leading by consensus leads to either anarchy or a loss of direction. People often talk about more “democratic” processes in organizational decision-making, by which they mean, variously, seeking the opinions (or seeming to seek the opinions) of some organizational members (before making an unilateral decision), holding “town hall” style consultations, and even putting tactical, strategic, or both types of decision to a popular vote among the members (possibly with some members having more voting weight than others). As with civic democracy, organizational democracy – if such a concept is truly useful or sensible – requires the supporting infrastructure of informational and educational institutions. It’s all well and good to have a vote. It’s not so well and good for that vote to be uninformed, ignorant of context, and poorly considered in terms of effects.

The theory of a BAH organization is that only legitimate leaders – those typically higher in the hierarchy – possess sufficient information, vision, and scope of knowledge to provide appropriate impetus that is consistent with achieving the organization’s overall purpose. That is, in fact, their purpose – the fungible commodity in which they, as leaders, individually trade – in a purposeful organization. Because the individual valence relationships that create the organization are primarily or exclusively fungible in a BAH organization, only the leaders have the privilege of providing leadership; everyone else is busy providing their unique commodities via the dominant, fungible-Economic valence relationship, motivated through the fungible-Socio-psychological valence, desperately, in many cases, holding on to their fungible-Identity relationship.

In the BAH organization, the time required to completely “socialize information” among all members is typically seen as detracting from the efficiency required to expediently accomplish objectives, and thereby achieve the requisite productivity metrics (since BAH organizations are often obsessed with quantification and metrics). Individuals, for the most part, do not perceive that non-direct-task-related information is relevant to their personal context, and hence are not typically moved to assimilate it in the larger, organizational context. Besides, who likes to sit in meetings in which there is one status report after another, mostly not about your project?

Thus, decisions are reserved for the elite few, relatively higher in the organizational hierarchy, who specifically hold offices whose responsibilities are all about making such information-rich decisions. Administrative and bureaucratic procedures become necessary to feed appropriate information up, down and sideways throughout the organization, and to provide whatever checks and balances are necessary to ensure the requisite integrity and accountability throughout the decision-making processes. These processes themselves consume tremendous time and resources, sometimes overshadowing the time and effort required to actually accomplish the nominal task-at-hand in large bureaucracies.

In contrast, UCaPP organizations invest considerable time to socialize information and involve many more people who may not have an obviously direct, purposeful reason for participating in that information sharing. However, in the context of organization-ba, the extensive socializing of information means that each member can act relatively autonomously, assessing circumstances with a high degree of accuracy, enabling the organization to move quickly in actually accomplishing the task-at-hand. Leadership-embodied-as-process in the context of organization-ba does not have an explicit control function (that creates the necessity for administrative controls), and therefore does not require the gatekeeper function of decision making (as it were) that necessitates leadership being embodied in an individual. In other words, the actual role of leader becomes increasingly superfluous as the organization becomes more UCaPP in nature.

Thus, the theory of a UCaPP organization is that the ba-aspects of relationships enable everyone to have the common knowledge of both content and context, appreciation of effects, and volition towards common action to both recognize and be able to act on opportunities. With this increase in individual autonomy and agency, organization-ba enables a sense of collective responsibility and conditions of mutual accountability. This is clear, for example, in the way one of my participant organizations – an archetypal UCaPP organization - conducts its business as a matter of course. For organizations in transition to become more-UCaPP, like another of my participant organizations, there is the need to create what might appear at first to be a somewhat artificial organizational social construct – what I have taken to call a venue of organizational culture change – in which to enact the attributes of those changes that help to create organization-ba.

This is counter-intuitive: the idea that involving everyone in authentic and complete information-sharing is more efficient in the long run than the typical knowledge management mantra of ensuring that the right information is in the right place at the right time. However, completely socializing information actually creates more unanimity among the members in supporting decisions, and eliminates undermining and undoing/redoing initiatives that are often more dependent on internal organizational politics than on optimal outcomes. Perhaps most important, it creates a sense in each person’s mind of what one of my participants characterizes as, “where this organism is right now, and it’s constantly evolving…”

For those in leadership roles in their respective organizations, the CEO of one of my participant organizations has this advice: “So it is time to be true to a true collaborative model and be sure that we have enough diversity in the room, and so … we’re benefiting greatly from making sure we create that diversity with different types of people.” This means including people in high-level decisions from all areas of the organization, and at all levels of tenure and experience – from the entry-level clerk to a C-level executive – but not every clerk or executive. Such inclusion creates conditions for continual emergence (from whence innovation occurs) to be enacted from the normally stable state of organizational homeostasis. Additionally, by changing the people who are involved in senior-level decisions in the organization, more people are exposed to a wider breadth of organizational issues and concerns that contribute to developing the conditions for organization-ba. It becomes a virtuous circle.

One last note: Leadership embodied in an individual faces the risk of homogeneity: knowledge, context, insight, ability, and specific skills are necessarily limited in any individual. Leader-solicited responses from whomever with respect to decisions to be made can become routine exercises, especially if the leader regularly seeks guidance from the same group of trusted advisors, or from those who are too intimidated by power disparities to offer honest views. Leadership-as-process must equally guard against the routine, lest it evolves into an administrative bureaucracy. As my CEO chastens,
If you’re not constantly willing to doubt that you have the right answer, if you’re not willing to ask yourself everyday, is there a different answer that I haven’t thought about… a lot of times that’s going to require a different perspective around you. Now you may get a lot of that from someone you know consistently helps you get to new perspective, but just as I realized, it was a big insight for me in the leadership team to realize the point [at which] that became a homogenous group. And it wasn’t that we’re homogenous people, we had gotten to a homogenous way of working through issues.

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Christian Briggs said...

Hi Mark,

This is fantastic work - and powerful. How easily have the members of your participant organizations been able to understand your terminology and concepts?

Mark said...

Thanks, Christian. I appreciate the kudos.

Most people are able to understand the terminology and concepts quite easily, especially when I preface it all by telling the story of "A Brief, 3,000-year History of Organization." Besides the blog, I've had opportunity to share my ideas with upwards of a thousand people in various venues (keynotes, lectures, etc.) over the past couple of years.

These EMD (Emerging from the Mists of the Data) pieces are derived from my research notes as I am coalescing the findings of my research. I will be posting draft chapters beginning, I hope, around mid-September.