If organizations are living organism, and living organisms have a defined hierarchy of decision making and leadership, than how do you lead a living organism? While living things have a defined hierarchy, it’s not at all as though the brain is the boss, the Bill Lumbergh is portrayed in Office Space. We’ve all seen some adaption of the notion of preserving someone’s genius long after their death by keeping their brain alive in suspended animation goo in a jar hooked up to electrodes. You don’t have to go too many layers down before that makes absolutely no sense.
Interconnectivity of systems is a key part of life that every human understands at an intrinsic level. Without the heart and lungs the brain is useless, and vice versa. Interdependent systems are crucial for life to survive. The same is true of any leadership structure. So in order to arrive at any semblance of organic organization theory, the role and definition of leadership has to differ from our traditional understanding of leadership. At the same time the traditional models provide a framework of understanding that’s incredibly useful. The simple shift from seeing organizations as an inanimate collection of roles and responsibilities, to understanding the organization as a living entity onto it’s own is a fundamental shift that doesn’t require a tremendous amount of language to shift in order to create a whole new paradigm for seeing our businesses through. Similar to when all the Mighty Morphing Power Rangers came together to form MegaZord.
Yeah. It’s just like that.
To understand the role of leadership in the context of organic organizations, think about communication. In the human body the brain is responsible for communicating information through the body. It does this so well that conscious thought only makes up about 0.00045% of the brain’s processes. The brain is also a junction point for information traveling between systems. It may seem trite to think of leadership as a function of communication (as opposed to communication being a function of leadership), but think about what happens when the spinal cord becomes injured or severed. A relatively small injury yet it completely disrupts the flow of information throughout the body below the point of injury, and has catastrophic consequences for the injured person. The communication process is so finely tuned, complex and delicate, that we still are unable to correct this injury medically. So when I make the connection (pun intended) between leadership and communication I’m not talking about using Slack. I’m talking about the core function of leadership being the executive processing, alignment and execution of information throughout the entire organization in real-time every minute of every day including weekends and holidays. The processing of information coming in from all areas of your organization requires finely tuned processes for receiving information – discerning what’s noise and what’s mission critical. Evaluating that information for organizational synergies and business value, and disseminating that information to all effected areas of the organization, all at the speed of light. That’s how organic structures define leadership. A well-lead organization is one in which every single member has every piece of data they need for optimal execution, and nothing more. No distractions, no second-guesses, no alternative pathways.
The alignment of information and systems requires the alignment of information with purpose, mission and vision. The medical drama House once explored the idea of a patient having the two hemispheres of their brain separated and as a result, his right side of his brain functioned asynchronously from the left – throwing dinner rolls at strangers in a crowded restaurant, slapping his girlfriend, all seemingly without permission from the patients conscious brain. Although this is more of an entertaining piece of science fiction, it’s also a great illustration for what happens in our companies every day. Sometimes intentionally, sometimes maliciously, but more often completely out of a lack of information alignment, the right hand literally doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. And so the wrong product is created, the wrong marketing piece is shipped, the wrong customer is pursued, not because people lack information, but because the information they have is not strategically aligned to the entire organization. The roll of leadership is to align information across the entire organization to the purpose, vision and mission of an organization by both over communicating those key principals to your entire team ad nauseam, and by aligning the information flow to those core principals.
Finally, executing on information means giving systems permission to function and execute. As I’ve said before, the VAST amount of human processes are locomotive, or happen without conscious decision making being required. Leadership should not have to give permission every time a feature is added to the pipeline, every time a sales person meets with a client, every time a custodian needs to order more supplies. But what leadership does need to do is ensure that information flow through the organization is actionable, and that the various systems throughout your organization have the authority to do their jobs.
The opposite of this is something called micro-management. The beauty of organic structures is that they are never micromanaged. Everything works, and does it’s job, until the brain, your brain, says whoa, don’t do that.