Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The problem of leadership and bureaucracy articulated

On the surface, this article titled "Solitude and Leadership" from a lecturer at West Point wouldn't seem to have a lot to do with the theme of this blog.  But it does one of the best jobs I've ever seen at articulating the core problem with bureaucratic hierarchies.  Overall it's one of the best articles I've read in years - and I read a lot of articles.  NYT columnist David Brooks gave it a best-of-2010 award.  Definitely read the whole thing, but here's a couple excerpts to get you interested:
"That’s really the great mystery about bureaucracies. Why is it so often that the best people are stuck in the middle and the people who are running things—the leaders—are the mediocrities? Because excellence isn’t usually what gets you up the greasy pole. What gets you up is a talent for maneuvering. Kissing up to the people above you, kicking down to the people below you. Pleasing your teachers, pleasing your superiors, picking a powerful mentor and riding his coattails until it’s time to stab him in the back. Jumping through hoops. Getting along by going along. Being whatever other people want you to be, so that it finally comes to seem that, like the manager of the Central Station, you have nothing inside you at all. Not taking stupid risks like trying to change how things are done or question why they’re done. Just keeping the routine going.

...environments where what is rewarded above all is conformity... I realized that this is a national problem. We have a crisis of leadership in this country, in every institution."
And that's why Management 2.0, Organization 2.0, the Bossless Organization, or whatever you want to call it is so critical to the future of not just our country, but all of human civilization.