"Birth of the Chaordic Age" by Dee Hock, founder and former CEO of VISA, in which Hock describes his experiences in pulling together one of the largest (if not the largest) credit card company in the world in 90 days. His story of finding order in chaos (living in a chaordic world) is both fascinating and inspiring.
But it is his philosophy about leadership, people, and management that draws me back to his work today. In this time of chaos in our world, our work, and our lives, his thoughts on leadership speak of character, trust, caring, and power – not power over people, but power that takes the organization to a higher level of dedication to service and ethics.
Here are a few quotes from Birth of the Chaordic Age (1999), published by Berrett-Koehler, Inc.:
"Leader presumes follower. Follower presumes choice. One who is coerced to the purposes, objectives, or preferences of another is not a follower in any true sense of the word, but an object of manipulation. Nor is the relationship materially altered if both parties accept dominance and coercion. True leading and following presume perpetual liberty of both". (p. 67)
"A true leader cannot be bound to lead. A true follower cannot be bound to follow. The moment they are bound they are no longer leader or follower. If the behavior of either is compelled, whether by force, economic necessity, or contractual arrangement, the relationship is altered to one of superior/subordinate, manager/employee, master/servant, or owner/slave. All such relationships are materially different from leader/follower". (p. 67)
"A vital question is how to insure that those who lead are constructive, ethical, open, and honest. The answer is to follow those who behave in that manner. It comes down to both individual and collective sense of where and how people choose to be led. In a very real sense, followers lead by choosing where to be led. Where an organizational community will be led is inseparable from the shared values and beliefs of its members. True leaders are those who epitomize the general sense of the community - who symbolize, legitimize and strengthen behavior in accordance with the sense of the community... A true leader's behavior is induced by the behavior of every individual choosing where to be led".
"Over the years, I always ask each person to describe the single most important responsibility of any manager… Management inevitably is viewed as exercise of authority - with selecting employees, motivating them, training them, appraising them, organizing them, directing them, and controlling them. That perception is mistaken.".
"The first and paramount responsibility of anyone who purports to manage is to manage self; one’s own integrity, character, ethics, knowledge, wisdom, temperament, words, and acts.". (p. 69)To summarise this with a single quote as a takeaway - consider this:
"The second responsibility is to manage those who have authority over us: bosses, supervisors, directors". (p. 69)
"The third responsibility is to manage one’s peers – those over whom we have no authority and who have no authority over us – associates, competitors, suppliers, customers – the entire environment.". (p. 69)
"If one has attended to self, superiors, and peers, there is little else left. The fourth responsibility is to manage those over whom we have authority. The common response is that all one’s time will be consumed managing self, superiors, and peers. There will be no time to manage subordinates. Exactly! One need only select decent people, introduce them to the concept, induce them to practice it, and enjoy the process. If those over whom we have authority properly manage themselves, manage us, manage their peers, and replicate the process with those they employ, what is there to do but see they are properly recognized, rewarded, and stay out of their way? It is not making better people of others that management is about. It’s about making a better person of self. Income, power, and titles have nothing to do with that.". (p. 70)
"If you look to lead, invest at least 40% of your time managing yourself - your ethics, character, principles, purpose, motivation, and conduct. Invest at least 30% managing those with authority over you, and 15% managing your peers."
So the old idea of leaders as superior people dominating inferior people turns into the belief that everyone has to simultaneously lead and follow. In his book "Birth of the Chaordic Age", Dee Hock writes about the necessity for all people to lead themselves, then lead their superiors, then lead their peers, then hire, teach and motivate their people to do the same.
This is what he calls “managing in, up, around, then down”. And this is what makes the word management meaningless because “you cannot command yourself, your superiors or your peers, you only can lead them.”
There is a great deal in his writing that any leader might find helpful and inspiring in times when chaos threatens to engulf the world.
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