"Modernism, which dates from the late 19th century, is associated with mass production, uniformity, and predictability; post-modernism with flexibility, choice and personal responsibility." Michael Prowse, "Post Modern Test for Government" Financial Times, April 21, 1992
One of the great social constructs born of the Industrial Age is the business corporation as it was first conceived in the latter part of the 19th century and as it reached its zenith in the first half of the 20th century. This complex hierarchical organisation was capable of taking on and accomplishing the most complicated tasks. It made possible mass production and the creation of global corporations. By mid-twentieth century people looked at these organisations as the ultimate in business organisation.
However, with hindsight, we can see the cracks starting to appear in the 1960s and soon all around the world, hundreds, if not thousands, of these corporations went out of existence. For more than 35 years my father worked for a large corporation. Today the corporation is gone and the site where he worked is a riverside park. What happened in the second half of the 20th century that made the world different from what it was in the first half of the 20th century?
The usual answer to this question points to a multitude of economic factors (new technology, new competitors, new markets, etc.). All this is true but misses an essential shift that has profound implications for business organisations. In 1980 Robert Hughes (art critic for Time Magazine) hosted a BBC TV programme called, The Shock of the New. In it he explored the 19th century shift to the modern world-view and how it had now run its course and we were struggling to invent what was being called post modernism. Beginning in the 1960s the world has seen what can only be described as a shift in culture. The Youth Revolution, the Feminine Revolution, the Conservation Revolution, are just the most visible manifestations of what is a profound shift in attitudes, values and beliefs that has affected people around the world.
As human beings we are not the same as we were fifty years ago. Our sense of right and wrong, good and bad, our expectations for ourselves, others and our communities and its institutions, our attitude toward the world around us and how we use it, what and who we trust—have changed. One of the basic changes has been in our attitude to authority. We no longer automatically give respect and/or power to someone because of the role or position they occupy. Whether president, prime minister or a line manager in a factory we give respect/power when it is earned. And, more importantly, this giving of respect/power is not understood to be a surrender of our own will or selfhood. We expect, indeed we demand, a reciprocal respect and recognition of our unique contribution. As post modernists we expect choice and to be able to act out our personal responsibility.
For the corporate manager this has meant a profound shift in the way he/she must do business and in the way he/she must manage his/her business. Management is about governance but it is rooted in our attitudes, values and beliefs (our culture). When these shift then the mode of governance must also shift. Henry Ford could declare that the customer could have any colour car they wanted as long as it was black but today people expect to be able to tell Nike what word(s) they want emblazoned on their trainers so that every pair is unique. Corporations might have once expected that we would follow the orders of our manager in return for our paycheck with no questioning or challenging of that manager or the corporation. Today, of course, we do not blindly follow where the corporation leads. We hold our destiny in our own hands and if we surrender part of it to a corporation we expect to have the opportunity to participate in shaping that destiny. Bruce Springsteen brought a hundred thousand cheering people to their feet when he said in the introduction to a song "…because in 1985 blind faith in your leaders or in anything will get you killed." Managers can no longer be ‘masters of all they survey’.
Managers must shift their attitudes and values if they are going to meet the challenge of leading when leadership means enabling people to lead themselves.
The Traditional Manager
A New Image of the Manager
Lead from the Front
Make all decisions
First Among Equals
Empower Other People
The manager as facilitator must make real these four new images in the workplace.
- Corporate Responsibility—The manager finds ways to enable his/her people to participate in the decision-making, problem solving, and planning that concerns their work.
- First among Equals—The manager participates not as the up-front leader but as partner in the group. He/She accepts assignments to real work that make a real contribution to the accomplishment of the task—they do not just ‘lead.’
- Build teams—The manager works to create a team that is capable of solving its own problems, that respects individual members, that empowers every member to do his/her best and govern its own destiny.
- Empower other people—The manager looks at each person in a full and rounded manner—in terms of skills, psychological well being, etc. Whether it is a simple word of support, or sending someone off for training the manager is always alert to empowering each individual.
Roger Schwarz reminds us that, "Anyone in an organization can become a facilitative leader, even someone who has no supervisory authority. Traditionally, the influence of a manager and traditional leader stems largely from formal authority. But a facilitative leader’s influence stems largely from the ability to help others accomplish what they want to accomplish."
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