Are we becoming more anarchic when leading change?

On the whole anarchism has a bad press, but I would like to suggest it has an explanation for the shift in leadership as we have progressed from getting the work done (Taylor’s scientific management), through understanding people (Maslow, McGregor and Herzberg), being adaptive (Burns’ transformational leadership) to becoming leaders (Goleman’s emotional intelligence). In particular, I want to consider its relevance to leadership in transformational change.

One thing that is now recognised is that for a transformation to be successful it cannot be imposed on individuals – they must want to change. An excellent way of doing this is to empower them – let individuals and groups have a say in the way that the transformed organisation will work. I’m guessing that some managers will be nervously shuffling their feet at this point; others may be high-fiving.

Leaders who favour a command-and-control approach could be considering that the judicious use of employee surveys should be appropriate to demonstrate inclusion. Others, hooked on emotional intelligence and later concepts, may prefer a laissez-faire approach in which we adopt an emerging strategy for the change. Neither of these will work on its own, because both approaches have relevance in successful change. Herrero talks of Viral Change™ and uses words that include contagion and epidemic as characteristics in transforming organisations. However, for this to work, he identifies that rules must be in place within which individuals and groups can operate to implement the change.

This brings me back to anarchy, which Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher, described as ‘law and freedom without force’. My interpretation on this is that the laws are the rules and boundaries set down by an organisation’s senior managers within which implementing the transformation can operate. The freedom is the ability for those working in the organisation to make the change to themselves a reality so that it will stick; the contagion.

Who are the leaders in this change? Well most of them are people like me, and you – ordinary workers in the organisation that others are willing to mimic or follow; those who know what will work and what will not and can lead by example; those others trust. That sounds truly anarchic to me. What’s your view?