Responsible people build; they are moved by the heart. –Robert K. Greenleaf
Greenleaf writes: The ideal organization structure would probably be one that is redesigned each time there is a change in the conditions the institution confronts – which may be every few days. Therefore, the need for stability suggests that the best that can be hoped for is a ‘best fit’ for a range of conditions. This is not likely to be optimal for any one of them. The dilemma of all leaders of institutions is to accept that structure, no matter how well designed, will be awkward and inhibitive.
…it suggests to those who act as trustees that they should focus their energies on…designing a structure that is least inhibiting to good leadership. …Leadership is the prime concern! …Preoccupation with structure could be a gimmick!
Talk about a daunting challenge. Do you know, gentle reader, even one organization that is so flexible that their structure is redesigned with every ‘change in the conditions the institution confronts’? How many organizations actually design their structure so that it is flexible enough to respond to (not react to) a ‘range of conditions’? This requires ‘foresight’ – scenario planning, for example.
Organizations tend to seek to design the ‘optimal structure’ and the type of flexibility that Greenleaf is writing about will result not in the ‘optimal’ but, at best’ will result in the ‘best fit’ (i.e. at this time, this is the structure that is the best fit for the challenges and opportunities that we will soon be facing). How many organizations are able to accept that ‘no matter how well designed’ the organizational structure will be ‘awkward and inhibitive’?
Greenleaf invites us to consider that ‘Leadership’ not ‘Structure’ is the ‘prime concern.’ How many organizations become focused, if not obsessed, with structure? How many emerge structures that are rigid rather than flexible? How many of these organizational structures actually inhibit the Leader and the Led? I am thinking of Nordstrom’s first employee handbook. As I recall, it contained two sentences: (1) Use your common sense. (2) When in doubt ask. Talk about a flexible structure. They also sought to hire folks who demonstrated ‘common sense’ (whatever that is).
I am also recalling the Marriott structure (the one that existed during the Marriott brothers’ life-time). Their mantra was: ‘Make things right for the guest and we will talk about it later’ (the talking about it later did not involve ‘punishment’ for making it right by the by – which was one reason it worked so well – they also hired ‘good people’).
I believe Greenleaf was (continues to be) correct: ‘Leadership is the prime concern!’ And, gentle reader, you might remember that ‘Leadership’ is the by-product of the relationship between the Leader and the Led (i.e. those who freely choose to follow). The type of flexibility required also means that at times the Leader will choose to follow and, given the situation, the Led will be called to Lead. This also means that ALL need to develop both capacities – the capacity to Lead and the capacity to Follow. How many organizations develop both capacities in ALL?
Leadership is a serious meddling in peoples’ lives. –Max De Pree