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Systemic Perspective

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Management & Leadership: A Systemic Perspective

In Leadership & Management: A Structural Perspective I proposed some thoughts regarding what happens when typical management and leadership approaches are applied to a hierarchical organization structure. Having continued to consider the nature of these two activities I would now like to offer what I consider to be a systemic perspective. A perspective which differentiates the two based on the structures they foster rather than the particular activities they promote.

My contention is that the traditional activity of management, i.e., planning, organizing, directing, and controlling, is essentially the management of balancing structures, while leadership, i.e., challenge the process, inspire shared vision, enable others to act, model the way, and encourage the heart is essentially represents the enabling of reinforcing structures.

Management is an activity which endeavors to induce resources to migrate something from a current state to a desired state. This migration might be the development of a new product, the resolution of a problem, the alteration of a process, i.e., anything with a defined objective different from the initial state when the effort was started.

The difficulty that arises with this structure stems from the fact that the activity is driven by the gap, i.e., the difference between the desired state and the current state. And, not only is the activity driven by this gap, so is managements involvement. As the current state approaches the desired state the gap gets smaller and smaller. As the gap gets smaller the extent to which management is motivated to stay involved declines. The end result is that the the gap's, and management's, promotion of the activity declines. Management's attention is distracted by other situations with larger gaps, resources are reassigned to other projects, and in time the current state tends to drift further and further from the desired state. This drift continues until the gap gets large enough to attract someone's attention, and then, probably in a panic, attention is shifted from some other project making progress back to this one. And you can probably guess what comes shortly there after!

I propose that leadership differs from management in that it fosters the development of a very different structure for creating results. Leadership promotes the development of reinforcing structures rather than balancing structures. In this structure the results produced by the activity promote more the same activity that produced the initial results. In this way the focus of activity is driven by the results which simply produces more results.

Where is leadership in this diagram? In the words of Lao Tzu, "When the sage's work is done the people will say, 'We did it ourselves.'" The leaders involvement is in the design and implementation of the structure, not managing the activity in the structure, so there is no explicit representation of leadership in the diagram. Leadership is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The leaders most valuable contribution once the structure begins to operate is seeking out potential limits to growth and then working to dissolve them before they have a chance to hinder the growth of the results of the structure.

Of course the structure is a not really as simple as described. The real implication is that the results actually add to the perceived meaningfulness on the part of the actors. It is this perceived meaningfulness which represents intrinsic rewards to the actors and promotes the continued increase in focused activity necessary to produce greater results. Intrinsic rewards is very key in the midst of this structure.

If the rewards are extrinsic, i.e.rewards provided from outside the structure for the results achieved then, over time, the activity portion of the structure actually splits to create two separate activities develop. The first activity, i.e., activity(1), continues to be the appropriate activity to produce desired results. The second activity, i.e. activity(2), develops driven directly by the rewards. The actors may be initially motivated by the rewards, yet in time their desire for the rewards promotes the actors to produce activity specifically designed to promote even more rewards. The activity is intended to produce rewards, not results. Now if this wasn't bad enough, the detrimental side effect is that activity(2) focused on generating rewards actually detracts from activity(1) which produces the desired results. This actually serves to reduce the results over time. And rewards become the desired results. Quite simply put, "Rewards create self-limiting and self-destructive structures."

And guess to whom the choice of structure development falls?

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