The Opposite of obedience and the source of safety and success

Last week I wrote about the dangers of obedience in organisations, this week I will write about the alternative, both for organisations and education.

The opposite of obedience is not disobedience or anarchy.  It is thinking and empowerment.  Obedience shuts down thinking.

The question is what are organisations for?  (I will come to what is school for later.)

If the answer is to enable people to collaborate in achieving something, then we can already see that the answer has to be around alignment and initiative taking rather than obedience.  It also implies that identifying and specifying the “something” is important.

At Holos we call that something “Cause”, the combination of vision, mission and purpose.  I defined each of these here.   Of these vision is the most important and usually the most difficult to either understand or articulate.  Visionaries are rare because effective visioning is difficult.  Teams we work with have to work very hard to come up with a suitable vision.

The vision has to align and inspire all of the key stakeholders and it also has to be beyond what we already know how to achieve, otherwise it is just an objective.

It is typically organisations without an articulated cause that rely most on obedience.

However cause and alignment alone are not enough to ensure the kind of focussed collaboration that leads to sustained success.  Which is why at Holos we also talk about “Code”.  Code is the combination of values, behaviours and habits.  It is an articulation of the culture that will be most effective in achieving the cause.

The whole concept of organisational values has, ironically, be devalued.  Too often,  organisations use them as a marketing sticking plaster rather than an intentional cultural design which requires everyone, including the most senior people, to actually change habits and behaviours.

Values are important.  Just reflect for a moment on a time when you have been in an environment that was contrary to your values or where you have broken one of your own values.  The experience is shaming and unpleasant.  People rarely last long in jobs that are counter to their own values.

When we articulate values, we also define the behaviours and habits that need to change for the code to be truly lived.  These are not rules to be obeyed, but a code to be embodied, particularly by the most senior people in the organisation.

Once articulated we use convenient tools (an app) to measure adherence to the code and develop the skills that enable people to support each other in creating and curating the intended culture.  For it to be a cultural dynamic, everyone in the culture has to be capable of skillfully challenging behaviour that is counter-cultural.

British people sometimes refer to the “Blitz spirit”as a time when the British were at their best.  This was a time when Britan as a whole had a shared cause and code.  When the vast majority of people were aligned in pursuit of the same cause and were the code was embodied by most.  Crisis can have this galvanising effect and many businesses

Crisis can have this galvanising effect and I have often heard people say that their organisation is best in a crisis. But I think most of us would rather achieve success, in some form, than just survival.  The role of leadership is to ensure that a cause and code that is just as inspiring, just as galvanising is both articulated and integrated, this is what leads to sustained success.  Obedience is irrelevant to organisations with a cause and code to which people are aligned.

For this to work in adult organisations we will usually have to deprogramme the deeply embedded tendency of those who have been successful in school to obey.  Or find ways to embrace a more diverse selection of educational outcomes.  Or find a way to create a more rounded education.

A recent survey suggested that most parents are more concerned about grades than their childrens happness at school.  In recent conversation I had with the CEO of a youth charity, she was clear that one of the greatest concerns of teenagers is mental health.

This brings us back to the first question.  What is education for?

As I discovered when writing my first book  our education system was designed to create obedience in the 1902 education act, which Britain then exported around the world.  We have moved on somewhat since then, but we still teach a bizarre array of subjects, not all of which are obviously linked to lifelong success or happiness.

A different cause and code for education as a whole, might be able to inspire and align students with learning fascinating, valuable and useful stuff that could lead to sustained success (in their own terms) and a happy and healthy life.

Finland has what is widely regarded as the most successful education system in the world. It is a system based on a cause of – sustained economic success for the nation and a code (read the linked article for more).

Holos helps make change easy. We help organisations develop their leaders, map out and deliver the changes required to achieve sustained success even in a highly disrupted environment.

At Holos we have been studying change leadership and leadership training in the crucible of reality for years. We know what great leadership looks like and we know the journey to achieve it. We have developed a suite of diagnostic tools to understand where companies and teams are on this journey and how to take them from there to sustained success.

Holos has a wealth of specialist leadership and culture coaches and consultants with decades of experience working with a huge variety of leaders. Holos can help you or your organisation to upgrade it’s leadership to flourish even in a challenging business environment.

Please share your ideas, comment and discuss here – click on the blog title and scroll to the bottom to find the comment box.

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Neil Crofts

+447803 774239




About Neil Crofts

Writer, coach and consultant on authentic business and authentic leadership. Neil has inspired and motivated hundreds organisations and thousands of individuals to their highest potential. Neil has written three published books and numerous e-books. Neil is a coach, facilitator and consultant helping people and businesses find their authentic purpose and use it to inspire and motivate them to be everything that they can be. Neil has raced cars, been self-employed, run a company and sold it, been employed by large companies, experienced growth and contraction at the heart of the dotcom boom, tried changing companies from the inside and from the outside as European Head of Strategy at internet consultancy/rock band Razorfish. Neil has been independent for over 10 years and delivered his Authentic Leadership message to a diverse range of business audiences including people at BP, Shell, Microsoft, Kraft Foods, MSN, Jamie Oliver, South Gloucestershire Council, National Blood Transfusion Service, KaosPilots Business School, Fashion company By Malene Birger, German technology company Eleven.
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