Just when we had teams figured out, hierachies had disappeared (right.) and toxic leaders purged, the ground shifted and our world got more complicated. Cultural anthropologists sometimes talk about dynamic equivalence when translating a document or idea from one culture into another. This seems to be a good word for the shifting management landscape many leaders face.
I’m teaching a course next week on “the multi-sector environment”. We’re facing a blurring between sectors (for profit, nonprofit, social, public, whatever…), especially in healthcare management, and access to institutional authority is fading. The mashup of volunteers, knowledge workers and collaboration across sectors means essentially that everything is negotiated. Everyone is a stakeholder with personal capacity to contribute or derail.
More daunting still, those people/staff/employees/volunteers who actually report to us now have almost infinite connections into their own networks, relationships, social circles, and so on. Every potential management/leadership decision can ripple far beyond the definition of what we think our organization really is. There are other communities affected by nearly everything we do as managers.
It is said that Peter Drucker’s concept of the community impact of the corporation alienated Sloan at GM, who believed the corporation’s responsibility ended at its property line. How awkward Sloan’s position seems now. My take on the management landscape is generally that our responsibilities these days extend far beyond our authority to handle them, and we might as well get good at it.
So a solution is to manage the core. This means we should:
- Define the domain, but remember that…
- … the boundaries will move
- Be mindful of the power differential
- Manage what is seen and what is unseen
- Be aware these are human beings
- Deal with decisions that will be diffused
- Acknowledge that everyone has a veto
1. Managing the core means we recognize a domain of some sort and realize that’s about as far as we can effect change. It will probably be larger than our department/organization but needs to be based in some kind of reality. Your business/mission (essentially Drucker’s three questions) are your best bet for defining this.
2. But once defined, your domain will quite likely shift! You will always be aiming at a moving target.
3. The power differential between you as manager/leader and your domain will be closer to zero than you might be comfortable with. So managing the core will have not involve telling others what to do. Everything will be negotiated.
4. Managing the core recognizes managing what you can’t see or control. Your core affects networks upon networks. An employee’s girlfriend’s father’s friend might post gossip on Facebook about your organization. How will you manage this? (Actually every manager in this new dimension will be a crisis manager, or will fail.)
5. Max De Pree’s discovery that his recently deceased millwright was a poet created a transforming moment for him. How much time can we afford to invest in those who dwell in our domain as human beings? How can we afford not to?
6. Jim Collins talks about diffused decision making in his social sector book. Realize that you are not the admiral on the bridge of your ship, but a negotiator within a complex web of relationships. It highlights Collins’ distinction between executive and legislative leadership.
7. Working on the assumption that any one individual can shut you down is humbling and frightening. In crisis-prone times, in the internet era, where both responsible and irresponsible people have figured out that they can communicate, this is a simple reality. Start with the fact that everyone has a veto and build from there.
If your core is bigger than your domain, you may be working too hard.