A few months back, Andrew Taylor at the Arts Management program over at American University linked to an interview with Ed Schein, professor emeritus of MIT’s Sloan School of Management. Schein basically says that the environment in which corporations operate these days is so complex that CEO’s don’t have the capacity to provide direction by themselves. However, the expectation that they should be able to do it all as an individual keeps them from admitting a different leadership dynamic is required.
Or as Schein says, “Leadership is a group sport, not an individual heroic activity.”
Even though Schein was primary speaking about the corporate environment, you can pretty much see this dynamic will be present in every size company and organization. What initially caught my attention was when Schein said in his eyes, leadership is the pursuit of something new and better but many CEO don’t really know how to accomplish that and don’t do the research and testing to discover what is viable.
Again, the seems to be a factor in non-profit arts organizations. We want to find that new audience or implement something new, but work more on hunches than data.
But Schein says, in the US at least, there is a strong societal expectation that the CEO be all-knowing expert who will move the organization forward with a mix of genius, charisma and sheer force of will.
So many CEOs don’t know how to ask their people what to do. They think they have to own it all. They have to be the big-shot hero, and the world expects them to be.
Because we have these monstrous notions of what leaders are supposed to do, all based on this old model. We need a whole new concept of what a leader does, what leadership is, and get rid of all this command and control.
Well, people being afraid is also the society saying, “You’re supposed to be in charge. And therefore, if you don’t know the answer, you’re not doing your job.” So naturally, the leader is going to feel afraid—he feels, “They’re going to discover that I don’t really know, and then they’ll fire me.” But this notion that the leader ought to know is, I think, a particularly American, individualistic idea.
Schein gives a number of examples of people he felt were humble leaders because they recognized that they needed to depend on the expertise of a group of people if success was to be achieved. This is not to say, they were completely team players who sought consensus in decision making. One of those Schein mentions is Lee Kuan Yew, first Prime Minister of Singapore, who Schein acknowledges was an autocrat as much as he might have been humble enough to recognize he needed a team of experts in the transition from British rule.
If you have seen those lists defining leaders vs managers, you have probably sensed a negative connotation associated with management. However, that is what Schein says there needs to be more emphasis on:
…we may be overemphasizing leadership and underemphasizing managing. Is there no room for anything staying the same? We need a term for that, and the word “managing” is a pretty good one. We want the railroad to run on time, and that requires managers, not leaders. So we need to honor both what managers do to keep things moving and what leaders do who are really obsessed with improvement. What leadership does is make it new and better.
However, his concept of cultivating management is in terms of creating relationships that provide you with the data and experience informed advice and judgment necessary to make it new and better.
One of the problems of the managerial culture is that it is built on a transactional concept of how people should relate to each other. You have your role, I have my role. And we maintain a lot of distance because, if we get too close, I’ll be giving you favors and it’ll be too uncomfortable. Let’s stay in our boxes and in our roles.
To describe the process of getting from that role-based transaction to this more personal relationship we’re coining the word personize—not personalize, but personize. Get to know each other in the work context…My son-in-law doctor takes his nurse or his techs out to lunch. They build a new kind of relationship. So we call that a Level 2 relationship, or, to use another term, “professional intimacy”.
And if the potential leader doesn’t see that, that he or she needs that relationship to get anything done, then nothing will happen. They’ll complain, “Bureaucracy has stymied me once again.” But they reinforce the bureaucracy by maintaining distance.
That last line about distance reinforcing bureaucracy really gave me something to think about. I haven’t come to the conclusion he is right, but I definitely see an element of truth in there that I hadn’t recognized before.
In many respects, I think arts and cultural organizations tend to already have a work culture oriented toward the personized relationships advocated by Schein so perhaps the key is to pay closer attention to that and leverage it to our advantage in getting things accomplished.
I was going to title this post, “We don’t need another hero,” which made me think of the song Tina Turner did for Thunderdome. When I actually looked at the lyrics, I saw the lines:
And I wonder when we are ever gonna change?
Living under the fear, till nothing else remainsWe don’t need another hero,
We don’t need to know the way home
All we want is life beyond the Thunderdome
The idea of life beyond Thunderdome being one that has moved beyond fear seemed more apt.
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