07 July 2009

EMD VIII: Leadership, Collective Responsibility, and Identity in the UCaPP Organization

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.

502 pages of transcripts. 241 pages of analytic research memos. And I'm done with the analysis phase of this thesis process. Three cheers and a tiger for me! Over the next few weeks, I'll be going through the findings, selecting relevant literature, and generally preparing to glue the whole thing together over the next six months or so. And, I hope to involve anyone who might care to participate in reading any parts of the early drafts you might care to comment on - watch this space for details. But in the meantime, here's another tidbit that Emerged from the Mists of the Data:

One of my participants outlines their (UCaPP) organization's notion of reciprocity of relationships among all the individual members and the organization as a whole, introducing the idea of collective responsibility and mutual accountability: “We are responsible for the organization, and we’re all accountable to the organization. And, we all get benefit from the organization. So we work on the principle of parity. Parity of responsibility, accountability, obligation, as well as parity of what we get out of the organization.” Each individual in the organization has the autonomy to commit the organization with respect to external constituencies, without having to check back first. This remarkable demonstration of individual agency and autonomy emerges from a context of organization-ba – simply “knowing what to do” – in a shared space of mutual and common understanding. My participant goes on to describe how, in the context of their organization's social contract, mutual understanding creates trust, from which the collective mind, positions and approaches emerge. What arises in the place of conventional, legitimated leadership embodied in hierarchical status is neither anarchy, nor simple consensus that creates a vacuum of leadership. Rather, the notion of leadership is constructed in this organization as a process, embodied throughout the entire organization-as-distinct-entity/actant, rather than in any one (or few) person(s).

What is particularly interesting is the distinction the individual makes between representing themselves and their personal views and their views as a co-manager. “As a manager, I would say something different than I would say as myself. And, as a manager out there, I’m careful to remember that it’s not me, that I’m representing, although it’s also me because I’m part of this institution, but it is the institution.” Now, this may not be surprising, except for the fact that the organization's views are collaboratively constructed based, in large part, on the individual's contributions as an individual. The complete sense of collaboration that exists in this UCaPP organization, and having an embodied appreciation for individual and collective responsibility (i.e., a sense of ba), allows an individual to become somewhat more granular in their individual construction of identity in a UCaPP organization, as opposed to merely adopting a stance as a spokesperson or representative of a BAH organization. Let me explain.

When a person's Identity-valence relationship to the organization is predominantly fungible, there is, by definition, a tradable value associated with the status, class, and privilege that the Identity connection conveys. It becomes difficult for that individual to separate a personal view from that of the organizational role since it is nearly impossible for someone so constructed to publicly separate his or her self from that fungible Identity-valence connection. Thus, it is not uncommon for an individual to feel compelled to assume either an untenable, illogical, seemingly irrational, or unethical position with respect to a particular issue because s/he presumes – often incorrectly – that is the appropriate position for the Identity-role to assume. Because the person cannot separate him/herself from that Identity connection, s/he (to paraphrase Marshall McLuhan) loves her/his label – Identity – as her/his self. In the dehumanizing influences that characterize BAH organizations, a strong, extrinsically created, fungible-Identity-valence connection helps to disconnect the individual from acting on personal feelings and values.

Where the Identity-ba valence connection is predominant in an organizational culture, morally, ethically, and tactically ambiguous decisions that the individual faces are considered in the context of collective morality, ethicality and tactics. Rather than putting on a role and acting out in the way that the individual projects such a character may act (as might be suggested by Goffman in his Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, for instance), the person draws from his/her shared sense of what it means to belong to their particular group, and is then able to appropriately represent the will of the collaboratively constructed Identity(-ba) of the group. By virtue of the way in which basho is created, individuals may hold diverse opinions on particular subject matters, but the underlying values, common sense of purpose, collective will to action, and shared tactility ensure that, more or less, the individual can, in good conscience, represent the will of the organization.

Put simply, a BAH manager will ask him/herself, "what decision would a manager in my position take; how (i.e., through what defensible process) would s/he come to that decision?" In contrast a UCaPP manager would ask, "what decision accurately represents the collective values of this organization to create the intended effects (i.e., the organization's tactility) to which this organization aspires?" UCaPP organizations more readily lend themselves to managing polarities and dealing with ambiguity, even among individuals. There are a whole bunch of reasons that make this so: no reliance on fixed procedures and protocols; collective responsibility and mutual accountability based on shared understanding; perhaps most important, no feeling of imposed personal responsibility to make a decision simply because a person is a "leader" (and therefore must be “the decider”) – Identity is decoupled from the decision process.

Decoupling seems to be both important and characteristic of UCaPP organizations. Status, class, and privilege is decoupled from (a) income and other forms of compensation; (b) participation in important, strategic, and direction-setting decisions for the organization; (c) the imposed need to make definitive and independent decisions on various issues; and therefore, (d) the assumptive and preemptive need to justify, account for, and retrospectively demonstrate the correctness of prior decisions that go wrong. This decoupling weakens (or eliminates) fungible-Identity. In general, it is reasonable that when fungible valence connections are weakened in a BAH organization, either the individual is eventually moved to leave the organization, or, in the best circumstances, the organization itself begins to transform into a more-UCaPP organization, by reconstructing and transforming their valence relationships into ba-form, most importantly, beginning with Identity.

My participant made a point to mention that, “I would caution about seeing this as the ideal, amazing environment where we’ve learned how to do all these things that nobody has ever taught anybody in our society, right?”

Right. Absolutely. But it still is an ideal, amazing organizational environment.

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