In a telling piece in the Harvard Business Review not long ago, Umair Haque issued what he calls “The Builder’s Manifesto.” In it he argues that what bedevils twenty-first century institutions is the dominance of twentieth century leaders.
Put another way, we need builders, not masters of the bureaucracy.
…the vast, Kafkaesque bureaucracies that managed 20th century prosperity, created, in turn, the need for “leaders”: people who could navigate the endlessly twisting politics at the heart of such organizations, and so ensure their survival. But leaders don’t create great organizations — the organization creates the leader. 20th century economics created a canonical model of organization — and “leadership” was built to fit it….What leaders “lead” are yesterday’s organizations. But yesterday’s organizations — from carmakers, to investment banks, to the healthcare system, to the energy industry, to the Senate itself — are broken. Today’s biggest human challenge isn’t leading broken organizations slightly better. It’s building better organizations in the first place. It isn’t about leadership: it’s about “buildership”, or what I often refer to as Constructivism. Leadership is the art of becoming, well, a leader. Constructivism, in contrast, is the art of becoming a builder — of new institutions. Like artistic Constructivism rejected “art for art’s sake,” so economic Constructivism rejects leadership for the organization’s sake — instead of for society’s. Builders forge better building blocks to construct economies, polities, and societies. They’re the true prime movers, the fundamental causes of prosperity. They build the institutions that create new kinds of leaders — as well as managers, workers, and customers.
Haque is right.
The reason, though, that our leaders gravitate to the mastery of bureaucracy is not simply a function of history or socialization. The causes are deeply spiritual.
Masters of the bureaucracy believe in the system. They rely upon it. They gain power by learning its subtleties. They hedge against their fears and a loss of power by manipulating it. And the mastery of bureaucracy is not a creature of just the right or the left, but of both. Its most vehement defenders are so afraid of the future that both the left and the right trade in fear and epithet in order to marshal their followers. That is why the dynamics surrounding the decision making process remain the same, even as the identity of our leaders change.
It requires faith in something larger (faith in God) to risk your sense of control and to venture into new places where the ground is uncharted. Leadership is finally grounded, not in mastery, but in humility — the knowledge that we are “of the earth,” the creatures of God — and our well-being does not lie finally in mastery, but in trusting the one who made us.
The rest of Haque’s manifesto can be found at: http://blogs.hbr.org/haque/2009/12/the_builders_manifesto.html