What do Occupy Wall Street and Harvard Business Review have in common?

A recent article in Harvard Business Review (HBR) highlighted the self-management philosophy and practices at Morning Star Company.  At the same time, the activists of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) were explaining that their movement is LeaderFULL.  The values, practical reasons and approaches underpinning the two have much in common.  Their bottom line goals may be vastly different – financial profit as compared to social change – but they share a recognition of the collective impact that can come through people with individual power.

Chris Rufer, CEO of Morning Star says that eliminating management as a role, and creating a corporate culture of self-management results in them being “manager rich”, with each person managing the commitments they make to their colleagues.  The structure focuses on creating, coordinating and monitoring agreements about what work will happen, and how it will be done.  You can read the HBR article here.  In fact, Harvard Business School has been exploring Self-Management as far back as 2006, you can find an earlier article here.

Meanwhile, the Internet has been ablaze with articles responding to the criticisms of OWS for being LeaderLESS, by explaining that it is LeaderFULL.  The culture of OWS is to resist the traditional top-down hierarchical model of decision-making, to one where leadership emerges where and how it is needed, and that leadership is created through network weaving.  Two good articles in this discussion can ground you in the discussion.. One published at techpresident.com can be found here. One of the original articles posted by AlterNet can be found here

How leadership is viewed, developed and supported has long been a topic of inquiry and discussion, but rarely have we seen an environment so receptive to change.  The political and economic forces at play are creating opportunities that demand experimentation and risk taking.  Finding common ground across sectors can be a powerful engine for change, and what I see in the two instances above is allot of common ground to build upon.

Here is the common ground I see:

  • Individuals each have unique strengths and contributions to make to a groups success, there is great power in harnessing individual strengths for the common good.
  • Relying on roles and structure to force leadership to emerge when it is needed does not work.  It leaves people uninspired and unmotivated, people thrive when they are accountable to each other not to a system.
  • Great ideas often come from unpredictable places and unexpected people, the more fluidity there is for people to contribute the more great ideas get captured and acted upon.
  • If people have alignment between their personal missions and the group’s vision, they are powerful in the contributions they make to the collective goals.
  • Coordination has a greater return on investment than does control, but you have to commit to the investment whole heartedly.
  • Realizing a group that is LeaderFULL or an organization that is “management rich” is accomplished through group culture not through structure and process.  Structure and process are merely tools for supporting the group culture.
The self-managing practices at Morning Star and the commitment to being LeaderFULL by Occupy Wall Street fly in the face of tradition.  The old system of top-down control served the needs of systems to standardize and control process and people; the problem is it also inhibits creativity and innovation.  Our times demand constant change, the problems we face demand innovation.
Breaking free of old models and assumptions about how we work together to achieve goals, whether they are for profit, or for the common good is no longer optional.  Embracing innovation in how we work together is a powerful strategy for pushing innovation in what we do.
Anyone who has ever been in a room full of people who treated each other like peers, respected each others ideas, and commit to collective action have experienced this new way of working.
I challenge each of us to look at what is happening at Occupy Wall Street and Morning Star with an eye toward what is going right, not what is going wrong.  We just might discover the path to a new way of working together.

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