Leadership Blindness and Holacracy
Whenever people ask me what I’ve learned through the process of implementing Holacracy in my start-up organization over the past year, I like to begin by saying that it’s not possible to understand Holacracy solely by reading about it. There is a lot to learn in the practice itself. While the process seems stark and mechanical, and that can be one of the most uncomfortable things about it initially, it is surprising how emotionally involving it can be to use Holacratic processes at work. And the results are invaluable.
Let me share one example.
We were near the end of a Governance meeting where we make decisions together about how to organize ourselves, who does what etc. We were operating as a small circle of about eight people, with myself and my co-founder as the most senior, experienced and forthright people in the team. Just before the meeting closed, the most junior person in the team made a proposal that would completely re-organize the way we worked.
She proposed that we form a new sub-circle that would keep some of the key work we were doing to a smaller subset of people. In fact, we had been working that way earlier, and had decided to combine the circles into one larger one. Both the other senior founder and I had discussed these possibilities at length and decided to keep to one larger circle. So, when this proposal came up, we both explained clearly and precisely why we thought it was a bad idea.
But, we had no hard evidence that we were right, and no evidence that making the change would cause harm to the organization. If the change might cause harm to our egos, that was not relevant!
The change was approved. Because all of us co-founders are committed to using Holacracy, we chose to quickly reassess our rejection of the proposal and shift into the process of enacting it. And from that new perspective, it did have advantages that we had not seen in the same way before. That’s because those advantages were more visible from a different perspective which was the view of that most junior member.
On further reflection, I also realized that in a ‘normal’ organization, that change would never have happened. Even a very empowered and courageous junior staff member, like the one in our team, would have had huge difficulty convincing us to make the change. Under the normal conditions of a corporate enterprise, she would not have had an opportunity to bring her idea forward in a forum where everyone, including the most senior and experienced people, must hear, consider and give feedback on the idea. And additionally, she would have had to prove that the change would improve things. In a Holacracy, she only had to show how it would make an improvement to her role and would not harm to the organization, and that if it might cause harm, that it is safe enough to try.
I learned from this situation how insidious our leadership blindness can be. It is really difficult to fully and clearly value different opinions, especially when they come from diverse sources that we are not used to valuing evenly. I’m reminded of the research into women serving on Boards: that organizations are more profitable when they have women serving on their Boards, and that the best results come when there are at least three women because that’s what it takes for their voices to be heard against the habitual over-valuing of male leadership. And obviously the same goes for all our unconscious biases by nationality, race, age, religion, style, personal values etc.
The beauty of Holacracy is that it gives us a process that is blind to our biases and guarantees an opportunity for all views to have beneficial influence in an organization.
Would you like to learn more about how to reduce leadership blindness in your team or organization? Please ask me.