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How Ever Will We Manage?

Tomorrow's organizations will need a new form of 'connective' leadership that is more political, instrumental and ethical.

September 15, 1997|JEAN LIPMAN-BLUMEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Jean Lipman-Blumen is the Thornton F. Bradshaw professor of public policy and a professor of organizational behavior at the Peter F. Drucker Graduate Management Center at Claremont Graduate University. She is also co-founder and co-director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Leadership at Claremont

Work and the workplace are morphing at tremendous speed. In short order, we have evolved from a predominantly industrial nation to a land of "knowledge workers." Are yesterday's management styles obsolete? What approaches will be appropriate for managing tomorrow's workers? Here, two California authorities on organizational behavior speculate about the management model for--dare we say it?--the millennium.

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Today's most prevalent management styles--participative (where employees theoretically have a say in running the company) and command-and-control--will become increasingly ineffective in tomorrow's world.

We have entered a new era--the Connective Era--where all kinds of organizations are connected in an immense, global jigsaw puzzle. They are extremely diverse in products, services, cultures and goals. Inside organizations, too, many units are struggling to live under one roof.

Because interdependence requires a sense of mutuality and teamwork while diversity calls for independence and uniqueness, these contradictory forces threaten to tear apart organizations. To deal with these tensions, organizations will need a new form of leadership--connective leadership--that is more political, instrumental and ethical.

The organizational liposuction of the last decade has provoked a mutual lack of loyalty and growing cynicism among employees. With cost-cutting advantages in effect exhausted, further gains must come from more appropriate leadership.

Political expertise, practiced with a strong ethical sense--call it "de-natured Machiavellianism"--will be more effective than either thinly veiled command-and-control or illusory "participation." Persuading, negotiating, consulting, mediating, entrusting, networking, contributing, collaborating, facilitating and mentoring will be critical as leaders seek to formulate a consensus.

The Connective Era requires leaders who build bridges between antagonistic groups and respond flexibly, but with an authenticity that lets others know they work on behalf of the group, not for personal glory. They use themselves and others as instruments for a larger purpose: to build organizations that help, not harm; that increase money as well as life's meaning; that nourish, not negate.

Connective leaders have complex visions, but eagerly connect them to other people's visions. They seek mutual interests, rather than antagonisms and competition. Connective leaders applaud the achievement of others and sacrifice themselves to the "cause" before demanding sacrifice from others. They create opportunities for others to find new meaning in their lives by joining enterprises that simultaneously do well and good.

Connective leaders are not saints or softies. They can be difficult and tough. But they give us the chance to do and become more than we ever imagined. Here is a description of Connective Enterprises International, my ideal company for the future:

* CEI would be a global organization whose work--let's say making bicycles, but it could just as well be curing cancer--would make a real difference to both customers and employees. It would be profitable because its output is well-designed, reasonably priced and well-marketed.

* Recruiting smart, creative, enthusiastic and ethical people would be a top priority.

* We'd nourish authentic, accountable leaders through the organization.

* We'd keep organizational units to a first-name size. If one grew larger, we'd split it.

* We'd promote innovation through short-lived "hot groups" that are totally turned on by their tasks. They would have autonomy, space, time and resources to try, fail and try again.

* User-friendly technology would support all aspects of the business, from research and development to internal e-mail and telecommuting.

* Our growth strategy would identify mutual advantages of networked organizations, rather than initiate resource-depleting competitive battles.

* To stimulate creativity, we'd create an Intellectual Fitness Center like the one at Perot Systems Corp., where employees and their families can explore new interests, from archeology to languages.

* We'd bring customers into our research, design, production and marketing efforts.

* We'd make employees' families real organizational members, reducing tensions between life and work.

* Finally, we'd practice "shared governance," with managers and non-managers making decisions together about goals and strategies, even down to the details of benefit packages. Shared ownership through stock options (or internal stock markets) would be key.

What will the management model of the future end up being? It will probably resemble what I've just described. Connections, rather than competition, will unleash creative energy.

The challenge will be to sustain the courage it takes to keep trying new and more appropriate ways of managing.

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