The 95% Rule. . .breaking the rule

June 23, 2006

Peter Drucker once said that 95 percent of all that managers do is designed to make it difficult for others to do their job. I’m a manager and I like to think I don’t operate that way, but after the frustrations I have working “through the system” over the last 2 plus years I’m wondering if I have fallen into the 95% trap. I don’t understand why so many organizations don’t trust their employees and why those at or near the top of the organization set themselves up as judge and jury. Peter Block wrote a book a number of years ago called Stewardship. I used it in my graduate leadership class for several years. It hit a resonant note with me about the role of the manager and how to provide leadership in the organization. It also hit a similar feeling related to the behavior of employees. The idea that we are all stewards, rather than leader-follower is a concept that is well developed in some organizations and in other organizations not even a thought that has ever occurred.

I worked for a number of years in an organization that was as close as I have seen to a stewardship culture. I now work in an organization that is loose-tight autocratic. When someone doesn’t follow the guidelines new rules are put into place for everyone to follow. The silo mentality is strongly in place by some executives and not by others. The absence of a leadership model / culture has a significant impact on the organization’s ability to change, grow, and meet new demands. There is a clear absence of leadership at the top of the organization. I see many who want to do what is right, but are confused by what is wanted. I see others who are striving to be creative and to open new opportunities fully frustrated by a system that refuses to recognize change.

I suppose that if some leaders of this organization were to take Kouzes and Posner’s Leadership Inventory for The Leadership Challenge they would find themselves woefully lacking. Or I might find that I am out of the mainstream of what should be done. I’m not sure that I’ve ever fully embraced the mainstream, but at least I’ve tried to dance around it. As my wife frequently says, “Your the guy who moves the cheese” and while that may be true I am of the feeling that it is sometimes psychologically painful to move that cheese and make sure it stays moved.

Where does all of this put me. I’m an experienced and, by my standards, a successful manager. I believe I have had some leadership moments. I know I have many blind spots and that sometimes I don’t know when to quit (or shut-up). My gut tells me I’m right and I should continue to fight, so does one of my trusted colleagues. My brain tells me I could use the time and the frustration more effectively doing other things and so does another of my trusted colleagues. Yet, where does the decision ultimately lie? It lies with me, as always, after I have given due consideration, spoken with others that I trust, but who will not mirror my feelings. Making decisions are not necessarily hard, but sometimes hard decisions require decisions that are necessarily hard. It is sometimes the easy decisions that are easiest to make.

As I have reflected upon the above writing I’m asking myself am I half-full glass or half-empty glass person. I’ve always thought of myself as a half-full glass, but after reading the above I’m not so sure. My daughter once made a needle-point that says “Limits exist only in your mind.” I’m a firm believer of that. My comments have caused me to reflect more than I have for some time. I have spent several days writing just these few words, yet I’ve put many hours into reflection. Reflecting on some reading I’ve been doing it may be important for me to take the external view and become a disinterested narrator of the process. That is easier said then done. I doubt it would be a disinterested narrator, but a narrator who looks at the process from a different perspective. I’m not sure I can pull this off. Vivian Gornick wrote some excellent insights into the process. I’m going to give it a try. Learning is doing and doing is learning, and writing is combining learning and doing in a narrative format.

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