History doesn’t repeat itself exactly, but it can illuminate possible futures. This is a central point in this book by Timothy Snyder, who is among other things the Richard C Levin Professor of History at Yale. He has written extensively on the emergence of autocracies. One of his other recent books is On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century which is a pocket guide to fighting a takeover of your democracy. (You might want to get a copy)
I am writing this review as a capitalist. If you are a crony capitalist who enjoys garnering political advantage for your business interests, you do not need to read further. If your corporation is funding the political campaigns that undermine our democracy, take heed, you (and your grandchildren) might not like what you are paying for.
If however you are a true capitalist (see our Credo) then consider this. Democracy ensures the peaceful transfer of power. A peaceful transfer of power is our best hope of ensuring fairness in law. Without this fairness there is no foundation for true business.
Russia is a kleptocracy. If you think wealth disparity is bad in the US, take a look at Russia. It is full on, crony capitalism. Putin has a problem. His government can’t continue to survive if the Russian people believe there is a better way. Elections are staged in Russia but they are meaningless. Putin’s best hope is to convince the Russian people that all political systems are corrupt and all news is fake. If no news can be trusted then how do we know what is really happening and how can we make any judgements or any plans for change? If all governments are corrupt then there is no point of fighting for something better.
Nevermind if the fake stories are contradictory. Contradictory and emotionally charged, logically mutually exclusive fake news stories are exactly the point. These fake stories send real reporters out in so many directions in an attempt to get to the truth that they can’t keep up. It takes little time to promote a number of different versions of events and a lot of time to disprove them. In the end viewers are overwhelmed and give up trying to make sense of it and stop listening to real news. Instead they just consume the news that confirms their current views (on both ends of the political spectrum) which is of course the goal.
Russia managed (with the help of a skilled campaign manager) to get its preferred candidate elected president in Ukraine. When that Ukrainian president refused to do Russia’s bidding they undermined him and he fled the country, to Russia. (The campaign manager also of course lost his job.)
Then Russia invaded Ukraine while denying it was doing so. When the invasion was not a total success Russia used social media and lies to incite Ukrainians to storm their individual state capitol buildings and take over the local government.
Russia promoted Brexit, Russia promoted Scotland seceding from England. Scotland did not secede but Russia generated election lies and 30% of Scots still don’t believe it was a fair election.
Does this all sound familiar?
As soon as the Scottish vote was over, those same Russian sites began to promote a US presidential candidate. That campaign manager (Paul Manafort) went to work for a new presidential candidate this time in the US whom Putin succeeded in getting elected.
We narrowly dodged a big bullet a few months ago but it is not a bullet, it is a comet and it is coming around for another pass. The only thing that saved us last time was a few very brave people, most of them Republicans who did their jobs while under extreme pressure and threats to themselves and their families.
If you are a true capitalist you recognize that we depend on the continued existence of democracy. Without a peaceful transfer of power there can be no fair law. Without fair laws there is no playing field for real capitalism. Political favoritism and bribery are the gateway to facism.
Democracy is no sure thing. Democracy in our country is not inevitable. It is here only so long as we are willing to defend it. Are you?
Public relations professionals are too often known as the people you need to call when you have a scandal that needs cleaning up, but I argue that this stereotype is outdated and generally inaccurate. In fact, PR leaders are really the people at the table who aim to keep corporate leaders transparent to disrupt scandals before they occur, meanwhile guiding companies towards greater consciousness and more conscientious business practices.
What on earth do I mean by this and how does it happen in real life?
Before a Business Decision is Made
In the caricature of PR pros, we’re called after the fact…solely to clean up the mess. I’m optimistic that by now, most businesses have realized that it’s important to bring a PR leader into the mix before a significant business decision is made and rolled out.
If you’re a business that’s focused on the conscious path and doing business more conscientiously, and you don’t have a PR executive at the table as you work through important business decisions, it’s time to find a good partner. Here’s why.
A PR leader is always thinking about “how things will look” and the truth is the answer to that question is changing by the second. A good PR executive will follow what’s culturally relevant day-to-day, minute-to-minute and use these insights to interrogate optics in the current zeitgeist. We all keep this famous phrase top of mind: “perception is reality,” and when a PR executive starts asking questions, we uncover realities that a well-intentioned group may have missed. We also uncover opportunities to infuse more layers of authentic value into a business decision and can help gain widespread buy-in as they help steer the ship accordingly.
Picture this – your company has a new product designed to help moms, and you decide to launch the product on Mother’s Day. An influential mom blogger gets wind of this and shares with her followers that she feels like the timing of the product launch is tone deaf because Mother’s Day is a time to honor moms and not a time to sell them a new product to help with their daily responsibilities. If a PR executive was in the room, you would have likely discussed timing, as well as your influencer strategy. You might have changed your launch timing, or maybe you would have kept the timing, but decided to accompany your launch with a give-back to make moms in need feel special, including a way to positively engage the influential blogger with your give-back program.
Announcing a Business Decision to the World
Whenever you make a big business decision – this is an exciting moment. In an ideal scenario, a PR executive was at the table providing guidance in the first place, but if not, better late than never to charge them with crafting the announcement. At this point in the process, a PR executive will evaluate the business decision, ask the questions about how it will look and assess opportunities to ensure it is received in the best possible light.
In the example above, your launch timing is set in stone, but bringing the PR leader in to help with the announcement could give you the opportunity to think about adding in a give-back before making your announcement or engaging with stakeholders before the announcement goes live to make sure your intentions are clearly understood. This kind of relationship-building is well worth the proactive investment.
Cleaning Up a Business Decision Gone Wrong
You made a big business decision, you announced it to the world, and it didn’t go exactly as your team had planned. This can happen, especially given the fact that we’re living in a world with a 24/7 news cycle where something that felt appropriate in the morning may feel tone deaf by lunchtime. PR leaders play an important role on the team and can partner with leadership to identify opportunities to change the trajectory of the conversation – often that’s by tapping into a higher purpose and looking for a more conscientious path forward.
Generally, people think PR pros are responsible for sharing an organization’s good news at best or cleaning up a scandal at worst, but the reality is that whenever we have a seat at the table, our role offers us a strategic platform to ask questions that can lead organizations toward more fully cognizant and therefore wiser and more forward-thinking business decisions. We are ultimately responsible for the reputations of the organizations we support, and when we fully realize what that means, the PR profession is a great place for an aspiring Conscious Capitalist to help make the world a better place.
Today’s contribution comes from the desk of our Executive Director, Glen McDermott.
Who loves to be out on the water this time of year? Indeed, boats and beaches in the summertime make for great quality of life in Connecticut. However, we also have hard-working harbors that bring in cargo from all over the world. With this in mind, and in light of our recent Decarbonization panel for Earth Day, Board Member Greg Robbins, PhD, brought this little gem to our attention this week:
A return to sail power for cargo shipping sounds like an eco-friendly slam dunk, doesn’t it? Indeed, sailing ships are making a comeback for this purpose.
We find, though, that sometimes words like “sustainability” and “carbon neutral” can become somewhat…squishy. It’s important to look closely at real numbers, as the Dutch company Fairtransport has.
Since 2007 Fairtransport’s mission has been to raise awareness of climate-friendly transportation and to minimize our communal carbon footprint. With an engineless sailing fleet, they trade organic and traditionally crafted goods, and ship sustainable cargo overseas by wind power alone.
In this article you will learn how exactly they measured the cost:benefit ratio and ecological impact of building their next vessel for this purpose. In fact, prior to building, they analyzed the life cycle of a proposed ship part by part, function by function. You’re likely to be as surprised and fascinated as we were by all they had to consider, as well as their results.
The full article might be a 7-8 minute read. I’d say it’s worthwhile for any conscious leader aiming to balance positive intentions with effort and return on investment. We’d love to know what you think.
CHEERS for Friday and the start to a pleasant and productive Summer in CT!
In my work in the Agile business community, I have long been fascinated by the “hidden gem” nature of this report. Its findings support so many of the points Gavin Watson has been making in his Friday Reads series. I appreciate an opportunity to offer it a place within the connective tissue of ideas we’ve been exploring about self-organization, employee engagement and where leadership resides across the continuum of established institutions and emerging, ‘start-up’ ventures.
‘Power to the Edge’ reminds me of an anthem seen on a poster at a college radio station or a chant you might hear at a community protest. However, it was actually a report commissioned by the Department of Defense’s Command and Control Research Program (CRRP). According to the report’s introduction, the CCRP “pursues a broad program of research and analysis in information superiority, information operations, command and control theory, and associated operational concepts that enable the DoD to leverage shared awareness to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of assigned missions.” An important aspect of the CCRP program is its ability to serve as a bridge between the operational, technical, analytical, and educational communities.
So, DoD thought it was important to set up a research program focused specifically on the national security implications of the Information Age! If the military has become aware of this information gap, then perhaps there are useful lessons here for the rest of us fighting our lesser battles, day-to-day.
The publication’s central thesis is that Industrial Age structures – often organized with hub-and-spokes centrality as a key support to their command-and-control functions – must develop greater interoperability and agility in order to respond to the needs and crises of the Information Age.
Moving the seat of institutional power from the center to the edge achieves control indirectly rather than directly. While this can feel threatening to commanders who fear chaos, it is often faster, more efficient and life-savingly more effective in today’s fluid missions and environments.
Enabling technology has come in the form of advances in communications that can keep individuals and networks richly connected at minimal cost. The enabling mindset to accompany the new technology, however, is still emerging.
“As bandwidth becomes ever less costly and more widely available, we will be able to not only allow people to process information as they see fit but also allow multiple individuals and organizations to have direct and simultaneous access to information and to each other.”
David S. Alberts & Richard E. Hayes, Power to the Edge
As John Stenbit writes in the foreword, “Our future success requires that we think about information and relationships differently. We need to move from a set of monopoly suppliers of information to an information marketplace. Only by doing this will we be able to ensure that our forces will have the variety of views and perspectives necessary to make sense out of the complex situations that they will face.” The battlefields of Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq, among others, have provided proof-of-concept for the value of such network-centric capabilities.
Empowering the edge, these authors propose, is a transformation more fundamental than any other the military’s command-and-control structures have had to handle since the early to mid-19th century. It is also absolutely essential for navigating the complexity in which we find ourselves today.
You see, the edge of an organization is where the organization interacts with its operating environment to have an impact or effect on that environment. Empowerment of the edge involves expanding access to information and the elimination of unnecessary constraints. Whereas in the past, perhaps many procedures were needed to deconflict various elements in the absence of quality information, today the emphasis is on establishing clear, consistent rules of engagement that the forces can implement themselves. By unbundling command from control, commanders become primarily responsible for setting the initial conditions that make their teams more likely to succeed.
Edge organizations thus often move senior personnel into roles that place them at the edge. This can reduce the need for middle managers whose role is to manage constraints and control measures.
John Sviokla summarized four fundamental principles of the agile, “edge-based” organization a few years back in the Harvard Business Review: situational awareness, skills, values, and decision rights. Let’s take a look at each of these in turn to see how you can empower the edge in your organization.
Situational Awareness. Traditional command-and-control structures evolved from a set of assumptions about fog and friction in warfare. In the Industrial Age, information to thoroughly assess a situation was costly and difficult to attain. However, information flow is fast-paced and cheap, changing the economics for the Information Age. Today,in the time it would take for a network to convey information from the edge to the center and then back out to the edge, the situation would have already changed, making such centralized conclusions obsolete! Find ways for edge-stationed personnel to communicate directly with one another to acquire and convey robust awareness of a given situation. Situation awareness will always need to be developed and shared, but whose task this is and how it is accomplished are evolving.
Skill. When professionalism and creativity among a force are in question, very little can be accomplished. Mission-critical competence – that is, the ability to know what exactly to focus on – is best demonstrated under pressure when there has been sufficient preparation in advance. Preparing for a range of shifting circumstances is key (note: this is not the same as planning for a single, desired outcome, which often assumes certain circumstances which may or may not materialize in the field. Perhaps counterintuitively, too much of this type of planning can make an organization more fragile.)
Getting any job done typically involves things that need to be accomplished prior to undertaking a given task or mission – known as ‘readiness’ – and things that need to be done to accomplish the mission. Likewise, leaders at any level must have sufficient insight to know when to undertake different approaches to both, given the specific, on-the-ground circumstances. The comfortable position of selecting a single philosophy and working to establish it in both doctrine and training – then marching forward to a centralized leader’s drumbeat – has disappeared now that we are in the Information Age.
Values. This is what can replace that former security found in following the leader. Edge organizations seek to make command intent congruent throughout a whole organization, so that any part of it can ‘figure out’ how best to proceed in a complex situation. (It is not just the ‘head’ anymore that does the thinking!) This is made possible through reliance on a shared value system. Values can serve as a reference to guide every day-to-day decision as well as organizational design features. When structures are imbued with values, the results are congruent. It turns out that it is not lack of information but lack of clear and consistently-applied values that create fog and friction in our organizations.
Decision Rights. The most mature form of an edge organization is recognized by its self-synchronizing capacity. In edge organizations, peer-to-peer interactions are paramount, enabling high degrees of trust. Only through very rich personal interactions, guided by the values, skill and situational awareness outlined above, can sufficient information be conveyed in a fluid manner to overcome the uncertainty and volatility associated with complex field operations. The Power to the Edge report found that commanders do well to increase the degree of creativity and initiative that subordinate decision-makers in the force can be expected and even encouraged to exercise.
For example, General Douglas MacArthur, when organizing his campaign to island hop and retake the Philippines, is reported to have called in the commander of his theater Army Air Corps and told him to “keep the Japanese air forces out of my way.” That was the only order issued and the subordinate was left free to decide how he would accomplish the mission.
At the risk of repetition, in order to do this, his troops had to have access to four key things, also necessary for business organizations seeking the speed and effectiveness of self-synchronization. These essentials are:
High quality information enabling shared situational awareness;
Competence at all levels of the force;
Clear and consistent understanding of command intent; and
Trust in the information, subordinates, superiors, peers, and equipment.
Today, even in our home state of Connecticut, nicknamed ‘the land of steady habits,” responsibility for the use of resources and the health and wellbeing of personnel cannot afford to stand on ceremony based on tradition or the false security of what’s worked in the past. It cannot even rest on the strong shoulders of one or two supposed heroes who are ‘in charge.’ In fact, taking care of the important things to achieve a group’s mission is a distributed responsibility. And the power to carry out these responsibilities lies not at the center of an organization, but truly at its dynamic edges.
PS: Did you know you can book time with Gavin Watson to discuss how the principles of Conscious Capitalism are working inside your organization? It’s true – and while we cannot hoard these riches, supply is somewhat limited. Schedule your appointment now!
For today’s Friday Reads, I decided to offer a close read of two significant lines that have been tumbling about in my head this week. One is from David Sloan Wilson and the other is from David Attenborough. I think these may have given me a new and simpler way to explain the benefits of Conscious Capitalism.
I was reminded of the Attenborough quote last week while watching a series featuring Greta Thunberg called “A Year to Change the World.” She had just finished the Davos climate summit and was feeling discouraged. Attenborough was sharing his long perspective that comes with many years. During the conversation he said; “Self interest is for the past. Common interest is for the future.” It was just so simple, and so profound.
The David Sloan Wilson quote is; “Selfishness beats altruism within groups. Altruistic groups beat selfish groups. All else is commentary.” This needs a bit of unpacking.
When there is a selfish individual or several selfish individuals within a group, those selfish individuals will take advantage of the altruistic members of the group and take more than their fair share. Therefore; “Selfishness beats altruism within groups.” Only that’s not the whole story.
“Altruistic groups beat selfish groups.”
David Sloan Wilson
In groups containing selfish members, not only are members of the group being unfairly treated, groups containing selfish individuals have to spend effort creating rules, policing individuals, and watching their backs. They are forced to waste potential creativity on guarding against a cheat. Altruistic individuals are forced to start thinking more about their own self interest for their own self preservation. Performance of the group is going to be miserable.
Altruistic groups who have no selfish individuals are focused on helping each other. This generates lots of win-win-win scenarios, and people are happy about it. Individuals think every day about how they can contribute more to their group. They love their group, and their group loves them. There is great positive energy and collaboration, more creative ideas and more energy. When someone needs help, the others gladly step in to lend a hand. There is no place within the group’s culture to be asking, “what’s in it for me?”
This is why Conscious Capitalism works. This whole concept of altruistic groups of individuals is fractal. It looks the same at whatever scale you are looking at it. A group of five people or a group of five companies. The same principles are at play. In either case, an altruistic group will beat a selfish group.
What could be more selfish than a company focusing solely on generating profits for its shareholders, especially if it is at the expense of everyone else in the company or any suppliers or customers? Pay the employees less, buy materials at a price almost sure to drive the suppliers out of business, and cheat oops… I mean charge your customer as much as possible.
On the other hand….
What could be more altruistic than a group of Conscious companies acting for the benefit of all their stakeholders; the employees, the suppliers, the customers, the community, and the planet? This altruistic group will beat similar groups containing selfish companies.
What company culture could be more Conscious than one composed of altruistic employees intrinsically motivated and fulfilled by doing what they do best every day to benefit everyone else for a shared higher purpose?
They will certainly outperform a company focused on shareholder profit in a culture that allows selfish individuals to contribute less and take more.
A Conscious Leader is engaged in the common interest of her people and all of the other stakeholders. She has an abundance of altruism.
Today I started a 12 month course on becoming certified as a Conscious Capitalism Consultant.
As all good first days of a course should be, it provoked some new thinking for me. A question was raised. How do we as consultants expect to transform business into something more Conscious?
For me that requires answering the question: how did we get here in the first place? Why is business done the way it generally is? I can think of three possibilities; you may think of more.
Door #1 Was it originally a garden of Eden where businesses (like my grandfathers) cared deeply about their employees, generously shared profits, and went out of their way to help their people and the community? My father is another example, in the 1960’s he was known to pay people more because they had families and needed to care for them. (A crazy idea nowadays – and probably illegal – but there it is.) He acted generously based on his compassion for a parent struggling to raise a family. The New England Shaker communities would have agreed with him “to each according to need”)
Did the garden of Eden come to an end because of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, Milton Friedman and Neo-liberal economics? Was that a more compelling story?
Door #2 Or is it a stage of development thing, like Piaget’s stages of cognitive development and Kohlberg’s stages of moral development? Do businesses move from selfish to selfless on some sort of continuum? From ruthless and profit driven, to higher-purposeful? Is it dependent on the leaders’ stage of development as Keagan and Lahey suggest in their book, An Everyone Culture: Deliberately Developmental Organizations.
Door#3 Or are selfish organizations, neo-liberal economics, extractive capitalism on the one extreme and Conscious Capitalism near the other end of the spectrum reflections of personality type? On the one extreme narcissistic and psychopathic leaders and their companies and on the other extreme companies run by a near Mother Teresa type personality and acting accordingly?
If it is Door #1, that Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand destroyed the garden of Eden then we just need to work on a more compelling story than the one Ayn Rand tells in Atlas Shrugged. David Sloan Wilson, an Evolutionary Biologist, has done just that in his new book Atlas Hugged. Kate Raworth rewrote economics and destroyed Milton Friedman’s neo-Liberal economics in her book Doughnut Economics.
If it is Door #2 a stage of development problem and a company can’t go beyond the level of development of it’s leader then we would employ a strategy of leadership coaching and development. These programs are a dime a dozen. I think a lot of these programs fail. The ones I witnessed certainly did.
My bet is on Door #3. It is personality based. It is the personality of the leader that is relevant. So the temptation is to ask the question: how do we change someone’s personality? The problem is that we can’t. Every personality trait is highly heritable. It’s mostly genetic. We are who we are and we get more entrenched in our personality the older we get (see the work of Robert Ploman and his book Blueprint.) Compassion is an element of personality therefore it is highly heritable. Both the extent to which someone is compassionate, and who that compassion is directed towards – only our family, only our close group members, or absolutely anyone who is suffering – gets passed down.
Everyone I have met so far in our Conscious Capitalism tribe felt strongly that something was deeply wrong with corporate life. Some of us had developed our own versions of something similar to Conscious Capitalism and were fighting to make it real. Then we discovered Conscious Capitalism and realized this was what they were looking for. It was not the other way around. We did not think corporate life was great (as clearly some people do) until we read about Conscious Capitalism and only then realized it could be better. People find us and express the genuine feeling that they have found their tribe. Reading and attending lectures did not convince them. They already felt out of place in the corporate world and upon discovering a Conscious Capitalism group feel right at home.
John Mackey is himself a great example. He was not a born capitalist. He was on a mission to serve a community by providing good wholesome food. Later on he discovered capitalism enacted in a conscious way could help him, and was indeed necessary to serve this mission.
I am arguing that people will either have a combination of personality aspects to be genetically disposed to get it and feel excited about Conscious Capitalism, or not. No amount of pounding on the door of a person who is not tuned to that frequency is going to persuade them. You might at best get them to agree that it is an option on the table, but they just don’t want to taste it right now… maybe later.
So if this is the case what do we do? Certainly not give up! There is a rich audience of people out there who are going to get it when they hear it and immediately and joyously join the tribe. We need to be speaking much more clearly and passionately so they hear us.
One of the things that struck me recently was the Gallup engagement survey data. It just hit me that the 15% who are “actively disengaged” who are drilling holes in the boat are actually engaged and just pissed off. They would not have that negative emotion if they did not care. They feel strongly that something is just wrong. Drilling holes in the proverbial company boat is not constructive behavior, but I would bet that if they were in a Conscious Culture with a high degree of autonomy and they felt free to bring their whole selves to work and that they were appreciated for their uniqueness, we would not see that behavior. Instead most in this group would become highly engaged. The problem is not the people, it is the system and culture. But I digress.
Turn up the volume! I think we Conscious Capitalists are soft selling our idea because we are generally more thoughtful and understanding than most.
We have experienced the pressure from the traditional business leaders to conform to the traditional practices and we don’t want to behave like that. There is also a desire to win over a larger audience so we don’t want to offend any potential business owners. If it is door #1 or door #2 that is the right strategy. But if it is door #3 that is a mistake. If it is door #3 then we need to be loud and unapologetic about what we believe, while at the same time acknowledging it is not going to be for everyone and that’s ok.
If we are unabashed and unapologetic, loud and clear, those who are predisposed to connect with the principles of Conscious Capitalism will hear us and show up. They are members of our tribe that have not found each other yet. We can then help them along the journey they already yearn to be on. We can provide a language and a framework with which they can explore their feelings and ideas and share them with others in their organization. This is the most effective path to converting the highest number of companies to this framework. This is the way we will have the highest positive impact on people working at companies who deserve to be fulfilled by work, when they are investing 90,000 hours of their lives there. This is the way we will change our societies and save our planet.
These conscious companies will of course continue to dramatically outperform the regular companies, but don’t expect that to sway any non-believers. They will continue to take a wait and see, maybe I will have a taste of it later, approach until the cows come home. It’s just not their thing and it is never going to be.
Of course, there is an upside and a downside. On the downside we won’t get everyone to become a Conscious Capitalist. I never expected we would. On the up side we can take a bolder stand, attract the leaders who are looking for this tribe, and assist in converting more companies to these principles faster. People deserve to have fulfilling work lives, and our planet desperately needs more conscious businesses. For me the mission is clear. The urgency is great.
This is the same book I reviewed last week. Last week’s review was about ancient human societies, and the contrast with our modern work culture. It was about the autonomy and egalitarian systems we crave that will also lead to high performing workplaces. This book also has a lot to say about leadership, much of which is especially applicable to our times, so I wanted to cover the subject of leadership separately.
“In humans, leadership is a little more widely spread than in other animal species. Someone would take the lead on the savannah in the limited arena in which his talent was able to flourish…amongst our ancestors the followers fundamentally created the leader.” Mark van Vugt and Ronald Giphart, Mismatch
Or, as Simon Sinek puts it: “To be a leader means one thing and one thing only. It means that you have followers.”
If you are a leader your ‘power’ was given to you by the people you are leading. They are letting you lead because they trust that you will care for them above only yourself. That is a sacred responsibility that should not be violated.
In our ancient ancestors’ time, leadership was fluid; it depended on what needed doing. Leadership was not hereditary or a full time job. A leader was a person with a good plan and the ability to engage others and make it happen.
If Pete suggested going out on a hunt even though Pete had never come home with as much as a Bunyoro rabbit, all the men would carry on lazing under the trees. But if Jack who was extremely proficient at catching wildebeest proposed a walk, everyone would definitely follow.
Leadership can have a dark side.
“I worry that business leaders are more interested in material gain than they are in having the patience to build up a strong organization, and a strong organization starts with caring for their people.” – John Wooden
Unfortunately some individuals will abuse leadership (the power that the people give them) to take advantage of the group.
We want transformational leaders who have the good of the group as their focus and who will self-sacrifice for their group. We don’t want transactional leaders or narcissistic or sociopathic leaders. Cooperation, high performing groups, fulfilled people, and dominance don’t go together.
What to do about a bad leader?
Ultimately the responsibility for bad leaders lies in our followership.
“Cooperating in a group context is more effective when aggressive or dominant types are ejected or when the group takes them down a peg or two. No one individual is stronger than the group.” Ronald Giphart and Mark van Vugt, Mismatch
Being expelled from the group 50,000 years ago meant certain death. Our ancestors had ‘STOP’ strategies: Strategies To Overcome the Powerful. They used gossip, had minimal hierarchy and used humor, ridicule, and shunning. If none of that worked, then the death sentence by expulsion from the group was meted out. That was an effective strategy for ridding the group of a narcissistic or sociopathic person trying to take control.
Our current organizations and governments are lacking effective STOPs. Sometimes our organizations even institute rules against essential STOP tactics like gossiping. We need to put effective STOPs in place. We could encourage the gossiping around the water cooler that used to happen around the campfire in the evening. Leaders used to be chosen by their followers. In our ancestral groups you were a leader because your followers chose you. We could still do that in our companies and even review our company leaders with the authority to replace them if they are not serving the group. As in ancestral times, we could pass leadership around as something that is situationally dependent. Whoever is best at leading the project at hand takes the lead. This allows for more variations and selection and if the results are good, repetition in the future. In this way, the better leaders for particular circumstances will emerge from the group.
Unfortunately, as in so much of our business practices, there is a Mismatch in our human evolutionary design and our corporate leadership systems and in our political leadership systems.
If the shareholders choose the leadership for a company through the board of directors, there is a risk that they might choose the wrong type of person for the job. Parachuting in an MBA from outside is rarely a good choice for leadership of a company. Natural leaders should be allowed to emerge from within. When a CEO is chosen who primarily cares about the stock price and their bonus, there is not much the employees can do about it except vote with their feet. There is a good argument for the employees to choose their leaders at their working group level and, even at the top of the company.
In our politics there are real issues. We have been designed to exist in groups of up to 150 people. At this size we either know each other directly or we know someone who knows that other person and we can find out about their reputation by asking our friends.
A great number of us are prone to following self serving leaders who enhance themselves to appear strong. When we are fearful (and sometimes bad “leaders” deliberately create fake stuff to be fearful of or deliberately amp it up) we want someone who sounds confident, and if it is a complex issue we may elect them to take care of it for us.
We have different personalities, psychologically we are not all built the same. We tend to one end of a given spectrum or the other.
Liberals and conservatives, for instance, care about the issue of fairness but see fairness in a different way, through a different lens. Some ask; am I, and is my group, getting our fair share? Others ask, is that disadvantaged person being treated fairly? We are all compassionate but feel compassion differently. Compassion can be group-related. Who is my group? Is it my family? My friends, My church? My religion? My company? My fellow sports team fans? My political party? My country? Or am I a global citizen with global responsibilities?
In our ancestors’ times it was good to have people who cared about strangers outside our group. People who felt compassion and offered sustenance to outsiders. We see that in the generosity of groups who do not have much but willingly share what little they have with total strangers. It was also good to have people within our group considering how that would put an additional strain on our group’s resources. A strong in group bias. We still have this range of personality types living among us. A good leader needs both.
How I participate in leadership is linked to a large degree in how we are hardwired. Am I one who wants to lead? Do I prefer to stay in the background? Am I a good follower? Do I pledge allegiance to a flag? Do I respect authority? or do I question authority? Keep in mind, I am wired a certain way, and so are you.
The question to ask ourselves is what level is the leader operating on? Is he putting himself before everyone else in the group? Is he putting himself and his friends before everyone else in the group? Or is he putting the group ahead of himself? If he is putting himself and or his friends ahead of everyone else then he is clearly not the person we want leading us. As soon as things go wrong he will be blaming everyone else instead of helping to solve the problem. A good leader who cares about the group over himself would be apologizing for what went wrong and offering to step down and let someone else with a better idea give it a try. That is not weakness, that is putting the good of the group first.
If our leader is putting the group ahead of herself and her friends, that’s great. Then we need to ask a follow up question which is; what level of group is she putting ahead of what other group(s)? Is she putting our group ahead of the other groups? Or is she putting everyone in every group’s best interest ahead of her own and our group’s self interest?
It is important not to be just a leader for your own group. After all, Hitler’s power came from the belief in the idea that Germany needed to come first.
To the extent that humanity not only survives but prospers for the next thousand years, it will be because we and our leaders put the greater interest of all of us and our planet (on which we and all future generations depend) ahead of our short term, personal, and national interests.
We are a global collaborative system of groups of groups within groups, living on a finite planet. Just like any stakeholder system if a group treats other groups unfairly and takes more than their share, the system is going to collapse. We followers need to be choosing leaders who understand this and we need to be willing to make personal sacrifices for our global group of humanity.
This pandemic is a trial run of our ability to put global human interests ahead of our personal, local, political, and national group interests. So far I am not impressed. Hopefully we are beginning to learn the lesson. How this pandemic continues to unfold over the next decade depends on learning the global citizen lesson. The pandemic will keep teaching us about global citizenship through viral variants until we learn it. As the followers who give our leaders power to act for us, we are responsible for behaving (and voting) like global citizens.
Mark van Vugt is an Evolutionary Psychologist. Evolutionary Psychology is the study of our evolution as a species and how that has determined how our brains function and our behavior. Ronald Giphart is a novelist.
The two authors ran across each other at the university where Vugt teaches – and where Giphart was visiting as a creative-in-residence. Giphart was intrigued by Vugt’s work and Vugt needed a better way of explaining his thinking. They came up with the term ‘mismatch.’ This book was a natural partnership to explain evolutionary psychology in a readable way.
Mismatch explores the ways in which our “Stone Age Brains” were matched for our ancient ancestors’ environment but now sometimes glitch up in our current environment.
You see, evolution always relates to the current environment in which a species lives. An individual or group that is better suited or more adaptable to a particular environment will outperform and out reproduce the less suited. That is, until the environment changes. Then different individuals or groups will have the upper hand.
It’s interesting to consider, as this book does, all sorts of mismatches we have created for ourselves in our daily lives. Food and supermarkets are an obvious one. Our food no longer runs away so that we have to chase it and expend calories in the pursuit. We can just go buy a box of sugary cereal and eat that. The results are diabetes and tooth decay.
I am just going to focus on the part of the book that covers our work environment.
We humans have dramatically changed our environment. We are no longer wandering across the African savannah in small groups as our ancestors did for most of the last 200,000 years. We were perfected for that environment, not the one in which we currently find ourselves.
Now we commute to work, punch a clock, get paid money for our labor, manage or have a manager, job descriptions, performance reviews, strategic plans, budgets, paychecks, and bonus programs all of which did not exist while we (and our brains) were evolving. Biologically and neurologically, we are still the same creatures who traveled in small groups, shared food, and stuck together for protection from much stronger and faster predators.
Evolution happens minimally and incrementally over at least a dozen or so generations and more likely tens of thousands of years. We have not yet begun to adapt to these new circumstances that we have created for ourselves.
Genetically, we are lagging far behind. We are hardwired to view, process, and engage with the world in ways we need to understand better so we can adapt our work lives to ourselves, as real human beings.
Our fellow human beings are, in large part, what we have evolved to deal with. The most common and consistent feature of our environment 100,000 years ago when our ancestors traveled together through the savannah and primordial forests was the other people in our groups. This has not changed. What has changed is the way we interact with each other due to the business operating systems we have invented.
“In the savannah there were no managers or middle managers. Decisions were taken by the group, on the basis of consensus, not on the basis of hierarchy. Modern organizations have become excessively formalized and institutionalized, which goes against our small group instincts. Studies show that employees need a great deal of autonomy, a primeval preference for self-employment. People want to be left alone, they do not want some process supervisor breathing down their neck. The same studies reveal that employees consider autonomy and social contacts more important than pay. Our desires have not changed only the circumstances in which we operate.” – Ronald Giphart and Mark van Vugt
The good news is, we CAN better adapt our workplaces to ourselves. This will enable us to operate more in sync with how we are designed.
We thrive in groups of around 100 to 150 people. It is impossible for us to apprehend companies that are too big for our social brains
When a unit grows to a size of 150, a new unit can be set up that does the same work. Everything in Gore is set up in small groups that are responsible for a segment of a process. The groups choose their leaders. Every team has a leader, but he or she is chosen by the group itself on the basis of questions and requirements which were also answered by our ancestors: “Who should I follow?” “Who is best able to help me?” and “Who will teach me the most?”
The Brazilian company Semco likewise works according to this ancestral philosophy and is also successful. Network governance is a method to cancel out mismatch. Some governance experts believe that this is the organizational model of the future, but in fact it stems from our ancient past.
We are not homo-sapiens, thinking is not our strongest suit. We are rarely all that logical. We are homo-collaborens, the collaborative primate. We have such a strong influence on each other that evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson says; that the smallest human unit is not an individual, it is a small group. We can’t survive without each other and as the african concept of Ubuntu suggests we actually call each other into being. In different groups with different people I am a different person. As Margaret Wheatley says this does not make me inauthentic it makes me quantum.
“What is crucial is the relationship created between two or more elements. Systems influence individuals, and individuals call forth systems. It is the relationship that evokes the present reality. Which potential becomes real depends on the people, the events, and the moment. Prediction and replication are therefore, impossible. While this is no doubt unsettling, it certainly makes for a more interesting world. People stop being predictable and become surprising. Each of us is a different person in different places. This does not make us inauthentic; it merely makes us quantum. Not only are we fuzzy; the whole universe is.” Margaret Wheatley ‘Leadership and the New Science’
We are designed by evolution to sense what needs doing and to want to help our groups. We are descendants of the highly collaborative people. We carry those same collaborative, generous, and compassionate genes that made our ancestors groups successful. We have everything we need to be high performing groups and organizations. We need to reinvent those organizations in a more human way. Our ancient past is the key to our best future.
This book has been around for 25 years, challenging the old “carrot and stick” philosophy of how to motivate people. It’s still one of my favorites, and in my opinion deserves a read and a place on every manager’s shelf. For perspective, though, I’ll start with Deming, founder of Total Quality Management (TQM). You’ve probably heard of him.
The present style of reward… squeeze(s) out from an individual, over his lifetime, his innate intrinsic motivation, self-esteem, dignity. They build into him fear, self-defense, and extrinsic motivation. We have been destroying our people, from toddlers on through university, and on the job. We must preserve the power of intrinsic motivation, dignity, cooperation, curiosity, joy in learning, that people are born with.
W. Edwards Deming
As management legend goes (and every business school teaches,) Deming’s advice on manufacturing quality was falling on deaf ears here in the U.S. but he found a rapt audience when he took his ideas to Japan after WWII. He is probably the key person responsible for the quality turn around in Japanese products. This was most evident in the auto industry. U.S automobile quality was terrible, Japan was worse but they listened, and Toyota quickly became and is still now a dominant car maker in the U.S. Honda, Subaru, Nissan and many others are also doing quite well.
What you may not expect from such a guru on manufacturing quality and performance is something like his quote above. Deming comes out very clearly and firmly against extrinsic reward systems!
Here are a couple more Deming quotes to reinforce that point:
”The idea of a merit rating is alluring. The sound of the words captivates the imagination: ‘pay for what you get; get what you pay for; motivate people to do their best, for their own good.’ Well, the effect is exactly the opposite of what those words promise. Everyone propels himself forward, or tries to, for his own good, on his own life preserver. The organization is the loser.”
”The merit rating rewards people who conform to the system. It does not reward attempts to improve the system.”
The book Punished by Rewards is all about this. I return often to one of my favorite examples of how rewards backfire, pulled from its pages.
A group of psychological researchers is studying the effect of different sorts of rewards. The study is done using young children in a school setting. The study starts with the researchers handing out art supplies. It is a free period, so they can do whatever they like. As you might expect, some kids run around the room, but a great number of them settle down to make some art. The researchers take note of which kids are engaged in artwork. With this baseline established, the next week begins the experiment.
The following week, kids who spent the most time doing artwork are randomly divided into three groups. The first is the control group. They are given the art supplies and just like the first week, they settle down to do art. The second group is a test group. They are told that if they do great artwork today they will be given an art appreciation award. This award is a ribbon of the sort schools often give out (I am sure you have seen them). This group settles down and does art just like the first group and just like they did the first week. At the end of the period each child in the second group is given an “Art Appreciation Award,” as they have been promised The third group is also given the art supplies and they settle down to do art. At the end of the time they are all surprised by being given an Art Appreciation Reward. They were not expecting it!
The third week rolls around and again the control group is given art supplies and they settle down and do art. The second group is given art supplies and told that unfortunately “we are all out of art appreciation awards.” This second group proceeds to do almost no art. The third group is given the art supplies and told that unfortunately “we are all out of art appreciation awards”. This group settles down and does the same amount of art as the first group.
What happened to the second group? They liked to do art. They were randomly selected from kids who like to do art. The third group did not get any rewards either and were told that there were none, but they did just as much art anyway.
The difference is subtle but obviously extremely important. The kids in the second group were given an IF=THEN reward. If you do this = then you will get that. The third group was given a NOW THIS! reward. They were not expecting anything, and yet they got a reward.
The second group was doing something they liked doing. However, all the while they were doing art they were thinking about an extrinsic reward. And it was a really small thing, just a ribbon.
An if=then reward is an extrinsic reward. It is essentially, as the title of the book suggests, a bribe. The kids were all randomly selected from a group of kids who intrinsically liked to do art. They quickly became trained not to do it unless there is something extra in it for them. They have been refocused on the reward instead of the art itself. As Deming says so well, “squeezing out their innate intrinsic motivation.”
One takeaway from this is that if I am being bribed, then the thing I am being asked to do must be something that people don’t want to do, hence the bribe for doing it.
The third group was unaffected because they did not expect the reward, hence it did not become a bribe. They were still doing the art because they just liked doing it. The presence of a reward or lack thereof the third week was therefore of no negative consequence.
One of the great joys in life is doing what we do well for the benefit of our group.
When our workplaces give us bribes to do what we do best and what we love doing it squeezes out the intrinsically rewarding nature of our work lives. If this continues to happen, as Deming says it will also destroy our motivation, self-esteem, and eventually our dignity. Who wants to do that to anyone?
How many of our workplace systems are set up to extrinsically motivate us?
Now I know that some people may read this and think, “but I can’t get people motivated any other way!” If that’s true, and to some extent I hear you and agree with you, it is not because people are born to be extrinsically motivated. It is rather because they were trained to become that way, through reinforcement over time. Effectively, many managers have unwittingly “destroyed” what was not broken in the first place! Most of the destruction may not have occurred while they have been working in your company. It may have begun at school as Deming suggests and continued at other places they have previously worked. This will take some time and patience to reset.
Knowing this, we need to reset work practices. Eliminate all extrinsic rewards (AKA bribes) from the workplace. Including even (and this might come as a shock!) the bribes considered essential to motivate that separate species of human, the “salesperson” who is usually the primary target of this bribery. You want your sales people thinking about the customer’s needs and how your company can creatively help them, not how large their bonus is going to be. So, compensate them fairly, with an amount typical for a salesperson living where they are doing the work in your type of industry. I would also add in some great advice from Janet Yellin that you should “pay above average”. This builds in a bonus, and takes the issue of money and fixation on bribes off the table and out of mind. Your salespeople can now focus on doing what they love to do. Find that sweet spot, where the company provides what helps the customer get their needs met.
If=then rewards are particularly destructive. “Now this!” rewards (the kind the third group of kids were given) can become “if=then” rewards if they are expected. If every time you do something I surprise you with a gift card you will begin to expect a gift card when you do it. It has now become an “if=then” reward. If you do the thing and you don’t get a gift card you might even ask me why I didn’t give it to you.
Don’t let HR tell you (as my HR department did) that we need to set up a gift card reward system to reward ABC type behaviors predictably and equally with XYZ rewards, and that all managers should have a meeting and agree on the metrics we would all use consistently to give them out. That’s the surest path to an If=Then reward system. Treating people fairly is not the same as treating them equally. We want to be treating people fairly. Fairly means treated as the individual (i.e, distinctly different) person I am. Conformity does not equal fairness.
Now, I do like surprising people with gift cards. Or just seeking out someone to thank for a job well done. It’s fun! Just keep mixing it up.
People should be coming to work for the intrinsic rewards. Two Intrinsic rewards are positive emotion and relationships. So, a Hi-5 is a good thing. Someone may be a consistent high performer and not get a lot of recognition, yet they are happily engaged in what they find fulfilling every day. Work can be (and should be) its own reward. Someone else who has been working really hard to learn a new job may just barely manage something for the first time. It might be far from perfectly executed, and it may have taken them a lot of time to do it, but YEA! They did it! Hi Five!
So am I saying eliminate all extrinsic rewards: bonus money, special parking places, a corner office, a company car etc?
If it is an If=Then bribe to elicit a certain behavior then yes, that is exactly what I am saying. If it is rare, spontaneous and unexpected, a fairness issue or a group reward that is OK.
If for example everyone who works for the company for 20 years gets XYZ then you can keep doing that. That is just a fairness thing. It is not something you did as an individual to get it, it is something related to the job or role you are doing and everyone who is in that same group doing that same thing gets the identical same thing no more or less. That’s just fairness. Fairness is good.
It is also better to give rewards to groups instead of individuals. That fosters group collaborative effort instead of selfish effort. We don’t want to create a system in which an individual wins and “the organization is the loser” as Deming says.
The best sort of reward is a bonus (pizza for everyone on Friday, or a company trip, or whatever) to everyone in the company. Afterall, everyone who showed up contributed to the company’s success that week. It is best to give the same amount to everyone regardless of position, or possibly even more to those who earn less. It will mean more to them, and we all like taking care of each other. Leaders who take care of those who need it most are regarded much more favorably by their group. If you want to instill loyalty, take care of the ones who need the most help. We all care about and will protect our group when our group cares about and protects the most vulnerable among us. It’s a sign of a healthy group.
In any case, sharing an if=then reward with everyone in the company, or possibly just the people in a given location signals that ‘we are a team, and we are all in this together.’ Which is exactly the message you want to send. We may be thinking about this reward while we are doing our work, but we will be thinking of the good it will do for the others in the group. It is not a selfish motivation now. Now I am motivated by doing something good for my whole group.
Bottom line: If your people are not engaged in their work and not being intrinsically fulfilled it could be that some of the company “compensation” systems may be unintentionally getting in the way.Have YOU had an experience like this? Let us know! Leave a comment on this blogpost or email us at email@example.com
One of my favorite song lines is from the original Dr. Dolittle movie. Matthew is singing to young Master Stubbins, and one of the lines goes: “I know that what the Doctor tells me isn’t all together true, but I love every tale he tells me. I don’t know of any better ones, do you?”
I think Matthew hits the nail on the head. The stories might not be true, but they are really good stories.
Most of us adults think that kids and imaginary magical worlds are fun stuff, but when we are adults we need to be based in reality and as adults we undoubtedly know what reality is.
On the contrary, I think kids have a much better sense of reality than we adults do. After all, most kids know when they are playing, make believe, don’t they?
We adults tend to get a bit confused on this. Think of the ancient mystery cults, for example, or the idea of divine right of kings whereby the king ruled because God said so. A lot of adults used to believe this stuff. But surely we have got it all sorted by now right?
Modern business-people and lawyers are, in fact, powerful sorcerers. The principal difference between them and tribal shamans is that modern lawyers tell far stranger tales.
Yuval Harari gives as an interesting example: What about those Wizards called lawyers? They write the correct spells on a piece of paper and get them signed and stamped with magical stamps and Poof! A corporation exists where there wasn’t one a minute before. And then possibly a few years later an even more powerful wizard called a Judge decides she does not like the corporation so she has her cort scribe create another magical document and she signs it and puts her magical stamp on it and… Poof! The corporation no longer exists!
The people who were employees are still there, the suppliers, customers and even the former shareholders are still there. The equipment and the building are all still there but the corporation is gone! Very magical thinking and unlike the kids we don’t even know we are doing it.
Another song that comes to mind is the song co-written by Kenneth Ascher & Paul Williams called The Rainbow Connection. You know the one Kermit sings while sitting on a log. Why are there so many songs about rainbows?…Rainbows are visions but only illusions, and rainbows have nothing to hide…Somebody thought of it and someone believed it, and look what it’s done so far!
Maybe Conscious Capitalism is about doing some magic in the mythical world of capitalism and making it a better story. If some of us think of it and more of us believe it imagine what it can do! After all, since capitalism isn’t altogether true anyway I think we need a better story, don’t you?
TELL US WHAT YOU THINK! Leave a comment on this blogpost or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org