what does leadership look like?

April 17, 2006

The director of the conference I attended in France made a short presentation at the last session in which he encapsulated what he and the management had been doing for the 8 days of our experience.

“We have been managing boundaries, not policing rules”

That’s the most concise description of management and leadership I have ever come across. If we’re managing boundaries then we are on the edge of difference. If we’re policing rules then we are imposing conformity. All problems in systems are caused by an attempt to control someone else’s actions and behaviours. Attempting to police those situations more often than not results in the suppression of difference and generates the fantasy of collaboration. If we’re brave enough to accept that difference exists and is enriching and is part and parcel of all systems, then the task becomes one of managing and engaging with that difference. If there is room for difference then there can be a realistic and authentic agreement to move forward from that perspective. That, to me, sounds like a more authentic form of consensus than an imposed “rule” that we all have to be the same.

4 People reacted on this

  1. Surely we need a balance between Conformity and Stretching our abilities and demonstrating our individual strengths.
    A particular percentage of all our jobs and lives must abide by particular systems and rules, self-policed or otherwise. Then we have room to play with the balance of our time.
    This is similiar to Charles Handy’s doughnut principle of Management.
    If I remember this correctly, Where the Jam is the strict targets we must achieve, thus Conformity and the Dough is the creative aspect of our lives.
    Leaders and Entrepreneurs probably tend to have less Jam or Confirmity and tend to ignore boundaries and rules.

  2. In my experience there’s can be enormous anxiety about negotiating boundaries because at its core it’s about negotiating relationships. Conformity, uniformity, diffference, diversity, vision all get confused in a melee. Not everyone comes to work to engage in the same primary task of the organisation…we all go there for very different and complex social, personal reasons and if all of that is ignored (which it often can be) and it is assumed that the singular task of the organisation is what needs to be policed/protected then this is where a lot of difficulty/stuckness can arisse.
    Another thing I see frequently is an assumption that if you attend to boundary management and people processes then in some way this is a waste of time and gets in the way of the primary task of the organisation…when people say that it takes “soft skills” to do all of this I smile to myself…

  3. Are you not giving too much attention to personal issues here?
    Is it not about Targets, Objectives, Responsibilities, Motivational Factors, Personal Development/Career Planning for the individual

  4. I think its about all of those issues Donagh, but organisations are systems of people and we don’t mutate into rational beings at the front door, leaving the rest of our personhood outside. Organisations are also emotion generating environments. Scapegoats in organisations are a particular interest of mine. So its not either or. My view is that the “personal” is always looked at in the service of the organisation’s task, not split off and seen as something separate or other. That’s not the same thing as doing personal therapy in a work environment.
    For example – if a sales team are unsuccessful in meeting targets – is there emotional response (probably one of disappointment) a personal or a systemic one? Did they come into work feeling disappointed or is it something that happened in the work environment? Will it get in the way of them setting higher sales targets in the future? Will expectations be modified as a result of trying to manage disappointment?

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