dinsdag 12 april 2011


The transition from bondage to freedom, is it a jump, or even an absolute break? Or, to put the question differently: a bit more freedom, is that possible to exist once you've got a taste of freedom? Or is a bit more freedom something like being a bit pregnant? Something that does not stop until the freedom or the fruit matures?

That question may be posed in response to the rebellions in North Africa. Are the ghosts completely out of control, will the insurgents in Tunis, Cairo and Benghazi still accept anything less than full democracy and participation? Or is there space left for a half-half situation, for a little more freedom within an autocratic framework?

So, for example, for a little more freedom in a state still run by the military, as now in Egypt. Or for greater involvement of the people while maintaining a powerful and popular king, as in Morocco. Or, as in China, for a bit of freedom in combination with rapid economic growth under an authoritarian party.

Or would half-half not last and should one radically march on? Have the Chinese leaders reached the borders of their ability to keep stupefying their population’s drive for freedom by offering prosperity and will they therefore have to allow more freedom? Will the Egyptian army have to give in to radical freedom-loving forces in the country? Or, if half-half is no option, are they going to choose, as in Iran, for completely stifling all freedom?

Closer to us in Western Europe the above question may be posed as well, be it that, fortunately, we know less physical and statedriven violence. And, another difference, I want to apply the question to the leadership in our companies. There we used to have directive and more or less top-down ways of leadership, but does that still work well? There is a growing number of voices that think it does not work any longer as a standard approach.

Carney and Getz for example state in their book Freedom, Inc. that the hierarchical model has run out. According to them the future belongs to companies that give their employees the freedom to do their job as they think it should be done. Because otherwise these freedom-loving people just walk away. Knowledge workers can not be managed in a controlling manner. The task of the leader is merely to create optimal acting space for his employees.

Another radical sound comes from Alan Murray. In his view managers are only a barrier to the full deployment of their employees and the prosperity of a company. "Their fundamental tendency is to maintain themselves. They are, almost by definition, averse to any change". Moreover, the younger generations don’t let themselves be commanded by parents or bosses. They listen to whát is being said. Not for nothing many people choose a position as worker without fixed tenure.

When you view the radicality of these statements, the opening question of this piece comes up again: once you have smelt freedom, will you not be at odds with any authority? Or is there space left for mixed forms of the authoritarian and the democratic, of hierarchy and freedom. Can these styles co-exist, or has the unfettered, free knowledge worker unmasked the manager as being a conservative potentate in such a way that the two are no longer compatible? That would mean the end of management. If so then we are living in historic times and experiencing a mega trend in both North Africa and in our own organizations.

But, to be honest, I think we must be prepared to manage with the hybrids. Complete freedom, both in North Africa and in our organizations, is something we will have to wait for a little longer. I feel strengthened in this thought – as far organizations are concerned – by a newspaper article that emphasized the indispensability of the organizational controlmodel. It was about the Belgian juridical system which had failed in an investigation into the murder of a student. The report on the police action can be read as a tribute to classical bureaucratic management because its absence is identified as the cause of failure: there was "no team manager, no file manager, no coordinator, (...) no structure, no information management, and leadership was absent. All this could be read as the chronicle of an announced failure".

Also see Must work be fun