A Leadership Challenge to Those Starting a Career
I issue this challenge mostly to those about to enter the professional world, as you have not yet given over your original, unique self to the corporate hive mind. This directive is, however, also a kick in the ass to some of you who have been in the work world for a while, and who still have a spark of independent life left inside.
This directive is also a kick in the ass to some of you who have been in the work world for a while
For me, it’s been about 11 years since I left the cube farms of corporate America for the more friendly, if more unstable, confines of the start-up world. I had mostly forgotten the hyper-bureaucracy, “CYA” decision-averse mindsets and logistical hyperbole.
Forgotten, that is, until this past week when it found me again in the form of a phone conversation.
I was speaking with someone about making a simple exchange of information… sharing blog posts between my start-up and his own company. No formality involved. No legalese necessary. No management hierarchies required. No multiple meeting calendar to set. No task force to form.
Just a simple, “You want to share our blog posts? Sure! Done!”
No matter how I described the process, repeatedly he could not grasp this apparently-too-simple concept. “I just want to make sure I adhere to your company’s regulations and comply with the blah-blah, etc.”
“We don’t have regulations and compliances. We just do.”
When I said this, the look on his face must have been that of a not-well-traveled American tourist in a foreign country where they eat live bugs. How could a company function without layers-upon-layers of procedures, director sign-off and hierarchical bureaucracy?
Be a Rebel Heretic as long as you can, wherever you are.
In Guy Kawasaki’s book, “The Art of the Start,” he suggests that one doesn’t have to fully buy into the mindset of the corporation. One can create a startup culture within the corporation. Your team or group can function somewhat independently inside the mother ship with its own sub-processes, sub-rules and sub-culture.
With this Rebel Heretic mindset, you may be able to hang onto your professional independence throughout your careers. Others will gradually be assimilated, yes, but resistance isn’t futile.
With this Rebel Heretic mindset, you may be able to hang onto your professional independence throughout your careers
It is however, admittedly problematic. Doing work the simple way can be difficult.
The subtlety by which one gradually sinks into the bureaucracy trap is part of its insidiousness. At first, you’ll catch yourself changing your behavior and professional vocabulary. The change will stand out because to your independently-trained ears the sound is eating-live-bugs foreign.
The subtlety by which one gradually sinks into the bureaucracy trap is part of its insidiousness
Gradually you may find yourself following in lock-step. Creativity dulls; you become less risk-tolerant. Eventually, you fade from “How awesome will this be?!” to “Hold on… let’s think… what will the executives say? What will legal or HR not like?”
Like the drone of cicadas, what is at first an annoying, distracting buzz surrounds you until it turns to white noise you no longer think about or even hear. You only notice when it is brought back to your conscious thought by a comment or when one of the red-eyed creatures lands on you.
And then the buzz – finally, regrettably – fades into the background. Assimilation is complete. You return to the bureaucracy.
If you decide this Rebel Heretic challenge is for you, it may mean you haven’t been indoctrinated, inoculated and submerged in corporate cultures; the bureaucratic “CYA” safety nets may not be installed under your wing tips yet. So there’s still time for you to create your non-aligned, get-stuff-done professional self.
The bureaucratic “CYA” safety nets may not be installed under your wing tips yet
As you grow into leadership roles, my hope is that you hang onto this sense of self. Do not go gently into that good night of “synergistic”, “out-of-the-box” thinking while you “take conversations offline” to “put it on your radar” and “circle the wagons”. (“At the end of the day” that was painful to write).
Keep alive the Rebel Heretic inside you. No matter where your leadership takes you, create your own start-up within the larger organization with its own subculture, its own creativity, culture and focus.
This is my challenge. This is your fate.
Continue reading our New Leadership series with It’s Time for Honesty About Diversity
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