As I entered the conference room, I noted the presence of the CEO, CFO, COO, CIO, and the chief of staff ”a lot of Big Chiefs. They had allotted me only ten minutes on their agenda. I had the impression they did not consider my project to be of much importance. After all, to rank-based leaders , collecting feedback from their rank-and-file employees is more a matter of appearance ”give them the impression you're doing something to address their worries while continuing to disregard their concerns, hoping that they'll eventually disappear.
My intent was to show how their direct reports at practically every level felt frustration at not being given the opportunity to participate in decision making. I began by sharing the assumptions of the myth of leadership and the other aspects of rank-based thinking ”the leadership mentality that was sabotaging the success of their company. Before I could say much, I was stopped by the COO, who loudly proclaimed that employees had no right to participate in any meaningful decisions, and they, the leaders, had no obligation to give them any. "People will whine, always have, always will", he said. Several other executives nodded their head in agreement.
I was shocked. All of the feedback and ideas I had collected were in that moment rendered meaningless, as I realized these executives would simply classify them as the inevitable complaints of unmotivated workers stung by "tough" leadership decisions. With a wave of his hand, the COO had dismissed the cares, concerns, hopes, and dreams of the employees of his company. He was the leader who gave the orders, and they were the followers who only had to obey. Simple as that, in his mind.
My ten minutes was up, and I felt like a complete failure. I had let down hundreds of employees of that company, whom I had come to care about. But all was not lost. Later that day, the CEO called me into his office and told me he agreed with what I had been trying to say. He also believed that a peer-based organization would unleash the dedication and innovation of his employees and lead them to greater profitability. He wanted to move in that direction and he enlisted my support. We both realized that he and I were alone in this desire ”the other senior executives were (and would remain ) entrenched in their rank-based ways.