Leadership with Awareness, Not Status

By David Ryback, Ph.D.

Laughter and smiles are often signs of relaxed comfort, quite the opposite of hierarchal power imposed on the organizational structure, where scowls are more common than smiles.  In such status-based organizations, power is assigned according to rank, and there is little wiggle room for the free expression of inner resources on the part of “lower-ranking” subordinates.  Here status reigns supreme, not open awareness.

True power can never be lost, except at the point of a gun, of course.  In a free and open culture, an effective leader who yields power with generosity and support will only become a more steadfast and credible leader, resulting in greater loyalty and commitment within the organization.  Beyond that, the Awareness Factor approach to leadership and management encourages much more creative productivity within the organization.  The Status Factor approach, ironically, results in more conflict and sense of frustration throughout the organization, since there is little opportunity to express and resolve such conflict.  So the end result is low morale and high turnover, though no one admits to exactly why.   The status quo is maintained with flagrant disregard for changing business realities.

Consultants often hop on the bandwagon of their employer’s status thinking and neglect to challenge existing ways.  They often don’t appreciate the need for the Awareness Factor in business—what is going on out there in the marketplace, for instance—before leaping into new re-engineering makeovers.  In his book, Early Warnings, Ben Gilad refers to this blind delusion as “cocoonism,” where there is little awareness of the outside factors, allowing the Status Factor to reign supreme from within.

From Gilad’s point of view, overdependence on those consultants that aren’t up to par, sometimes going from one to another, results in a situation where there is less and less attention given to hearing the realities of the outside world.

“Powerful leaders evoke powerful mechanisms to explain away the facts, sustain the denial, and dismiss the signals from the outside world that don’t supports their views,” according to Gilad, in explaining his term, “industry dissonance.”  Once the Status Factor gets a critical mass going, often with the help of expensive but ineffective consultants, the Awareness Factor can get overrun.  Gilad maintains that “when reality and conviction are at odds with each other, conviction often wins.”  The hierarchy-driven delusion can lead to groupthink, creating a blind spot where awareness would otherwise have its rightful place.  This is exactly the process that led to energy brokers at Enron to “stick it to Grandma” and to the ultimate demise of the organization.

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