self-managed leadership

The Four Spooky Particles of Self-Managed Leadership

By Doug Kirkpatrick

For organizations contemplating self-managed leadership a curiosity arises. What does it even mean to be a leader in an ecosystem where there may be no titles, no command authority, and no position power? What does it mean to work in an environment where the mantle of leadership is earned exclusively through trust, respect, and communication?

Author, professor, and business consultant Peter Koestenbaum taught philosophy at San Jose State University for thirty-four years after acquiring degrees in philosophy, music, and physics. He developed one of the simplest and most elegant of all leadership models, fully applicable to everyone in a self-managed work environment where harvesting leadership abundance is a sharp competitive business advantage1.

Koestenbaum’s physics background is apropos because the idea of “spooky action at a distance” was Albert Einstein’s vivid term for quantum entanglement, where observing one particle in space causes another particle, perhaps light-years away, to change its properties as if connected by a mysterious force.

The first leadership particle is the idea of free will. People have it whether or not they choose to believe in it, exercise it, or describe it. It’s a fundamental principle of human nature and a fundamental part of leadership. It’s about making decisions, acting on those decisions, and taking responsibility for those decisions—in other words, leadership. And the exercise of free will is available to everyone, always.

The second particle of leadership is the acceptance of anxiety, which is the consequence of exercising free will. It’s the job of every leader (and every human being, for that matter) to manage their anxiety productively and avoid becoming paralyzed by it. Embracing free will and the responsibility that comes with it makes the job of managing anxiety achievable. The particles work together.

The third particle could be called polarity management. Just as it’s the job of every leader to manage anxiety, it’s also the job of every leader to be able to spot polarities, embrace them, and manage them effectively. Trade-offs and compromises are parts of life and work, and unavoidable. Proactive polarity management goes a long way toward making business fun again and alleviating soul-crushing anxiety. The game is pervasive, balancing short-term vs. long-term, execution vs. innovation, centralization vs. decentralization and many other potential combinations. Effective polarity management is a supreme exercise of free will.

The fourth spooky particle of self-managed leadership is the ability to employ transcendent language in pursuit of a purpose. It’s fine to talk about goals, metrics, processes, strategies, markets and all the rest—that’s the stuff of business. But the ability to elevate others’ lines of sight with uplifting language that transcends the everyday sturm and drang of business-speak is an art that also has the power to quell anxiety and address polarity. Incorporating the language of meaning, purpose, and belonging into one’s workplace vocabulary is a crucial element of self-managed leadership.

In an environment where anyone and everyone is free to lead, it’s important to have some idea of what that freedom means. The four spooky particles of self-managed leadership have the power to either terrify people with an overwhelming sense of fear at the quantum of responsibility required of leaders, or provide an overwhelming sense of freedom in the knowledge that leadership opportunities exist everywhere for those willing to embrace the spookiness.

 

For further reading self-managed organizations, pick up a copy of my book, The No Limits Enterprise: Organizational Self-Management in the New World of Work.

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1http://www.pib.net

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