Three Wellsprings of Leadership®

John J. (Jack) Long

June 10th, 2015

Holacracy (pron. hol-a-crazy): The Absence of Leadership

There is a fairly new theory of “leadership” known as Holacracy.  I just learned about it from the article in the May 21, 2015 edition of The Wall Street Journal, Going Bossless Backfires at  Zappos (Retailer’s switch to ‘self-management” rattles employees; more than 200 quit).  My following comments about this theory are based upon the statements in the article, and the quoted material is taken from the article.

Accompanying the article is a good-sized picture of more than 50 beautiful neckties cut in half. A portion of the accompanying caption states that “Neckties of visitors to Zappos are cut in half.  The retailer has a ‘no ties allowed policy’.” (Some good news for the folks at Zappos – I found a website from which Chinese Tunic Suits can be ordered.)

Zappos has no “managers”; the employees are supposed to determine largely for themselves how to get their work done. “Employees say the new system has been confusing and time consuming, especially at first, sometimes requiring five extra hours of meetings a week as workers unshackled from their former bosses organize themselves into ‘circles’ and learn the vocabulary of Holacracy.”  For example, a job is “energizing a role”; workplace concerns are “tensions”; and updates are made at “tactical meetings” (forget about the idea of “strategy”).

The employees had formed more than 300 circles in order to implement the 30-page, approximately 15,000-word Constitution (the U.S. Constitution has approximately 8,000 words) and the recent 4,700 word memo from their Chief Executive (who probably needs a new title – perhaps Circular Encouragement Officer).  I can’t wait to see the Venn diagram representing the more than 1,000 employees chasing themselves and their colleagues around more than 300 inter-connected circles.  History has taught us that liberals-run-amok consistently embrace the idea that all issues can be addressed successfully by the imposition of an arch of “let’s all be really nice” above an incomprehensible array of rules, procedures, guidance, suggestions, slogans, and high-school psychology (and, in this case, a 15,000 word Constitution!).

One of the apparent philosophical underpinnings of this avantgarde illusion is to enable a $14.50 per hour call-center staffer to act more like an “entrepreneur” (generally defined as “a person who organizes and manages a business undertaking, assuming the risk for the sake of the profit”).  If Zappos is serious about this self-actualizing, entrepreneurial approach, I suggest that the Circular Encouragement Officer provide each employee with the funds necessary to start an independent business, which would then contract with Zappos to deliver the services necessary to sell Zappos’ goods.  A side-benefit of this approach would be the creation of more than 1,000 interconnected entrepreneurial circles, with a vast number of sub-circles within each of the 1,000 entrepreneurial circles. What a fantastic vision for the visionary lovers of a feel-good organizational free-for-all.

Holacracy is not Leadership; it is the abdication of Leadership. It is based on the assumption that artful and authentic Leadership is necessarily autocratic leadership.

One of my favorite Snoopy comic strips comes to mind.  In the first frame, Snoopy – who is wearing a French Foreign Legion cap and backpack – is seen to be leading four little Foreign Legion birds across the desert.  The bubble above Snoopy states that “Here’s the world famous sergeant of the foreign legion leading his troops across the desert . .”  The second frame has a bubble above Snoopy: “As they march under a moonlit sky, they sing a stirring fight song . .”, and the bubble above the four little birds shows various musical notes.  The third frame shows Snoopy turning to face the little Legionnaire birds and declaring that “ ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ is not a stirring fight song!”  (copyright: 1995 United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)

Leadership means something more than the establishment of a feel-good leadership vacuum.

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