How we can instill work in any organization with purpose and joy and give members of each organization a sense of meaningful contribution to a greater community? How can we design our organizations so that the personal development of each member is just as important as exceeding profit expectations? The current concept of leadership, the myth of leadership, is failing to do the job; only the peer-based organization will be successful. And the peer-based organization, as we have seen, will eventually produce the leaderless organization.
But don't we need leaders ? Doesn't someone have to be in charge? These questions, and others like them, reveal both a positive intent as well as some hidden assumptions. The hidden assumptions are simply those of the rank-based myth of leadership. It is the mistaken belief that only a select few individuals in any organization have either the right or ability to monopolize power and control, to keep secrets and restrict both information and participation in decision making. We are all aware of the deleterious effects of this rank-based management system. The positive intent is, however, the realization that a management system is required. Certain management functions ”setting goals and objectives, scheduling work, marshaling resources, solving problems ”need to be performed. Many people imagine that these duties can only be performed by a Big Chief or a hierarchical, rankbased leader. I disagree . We have seen how these management functions can be performed in a leaderless organization through peer councils and the practice of rotational leadership.
But isn't leadership important for an organization? Don't we need strong leadership today? When we ask these questions, what we really mean is that vision, wisdom, competence, communication, teamwork, and similar attributes are important for an organization. What we fail to recognize is that our concept and practice of the myth of leadership privilege an elite few and disadvantage the vast majority in a way that works against and undermines those very attributes we desire . We need wise people. We need visionary people. We need practical people. We need to be able to harvest the intelligence and strength of every member of our organizations. We cannot afford to restrict decision making to a select, small few and ignore what philosopher Michael Polanyi has called the tacit knowledge of the many.
The core belief behind peer-based organizations is that every member of the organization, from the CEO to the front-line worker ”albeit with different talents, ambitions, and contributions ”has equal standing when it comes to information sharing and participation in decision making. The transformation to a peer-based organization needn't flow from the top down. I can envision a peer-based initiative within a single region or a few regions or departments of an organization; or even as a manager within his or her own small area. For instance, a typical manager, or team leader, can begin to apply the assumptions, logic, and practices of peer-based thinking. Through his or her mentoring, the team is successful, and the manager is promoted to run a larger venue , where he or she repeats the peer-based methods with the same success. Those left behind continue and others are promoted and spread peer-based thinking until large areas of the organization are applying these methods and experiencing this type of success.
One key aspect of peer-based thinking to touch on here is the mapping of best practices in the organization to discover the underlying normative pattern of recurrent operations; that is, uncover the implicit method. This doesn't mean copying from the procedures manual or even asking highly successful people to explain their approach, but observing them in action to see what they're actually doing. Most people's explanation of their behavior differs from what they actually do. This is because we all know more than we can say. Much of the intellectual capital in an organization consists of tacit knowledge. Because it is not captured, it is not teachable; and so this tacit knowledge is frequently lost by organizations.
When it is captured, best practices for all of the significant work in the organization can be methodically created and taught to others. In this way, the intellectual capital in a business can be turned into structural capital and become part of the long- term fabric of the organization. By uncovering the methods already operative within the organization, and not importing generic models from some self-interested consulting firm, the organization remains centered on its own authentic business identity. This mapping of implicit methods is facilitated when peer councils take over from rank-based managers, and senior executives stop being leaders and instead act as consultants to their people, who are now allowed to lead themselves .
Another important practical aspect of peer-based thinking is training members of the organization in "hard" intellectual skills and not as much in "soft" emotional skills. It takes certain intellectual skills ”creative thinking, critical judgment, the ability to build strong relationships, and so on ”to be successful in dynamic organizations. These skills will become increasingly valuable . People in organizations need to be given the right training to be able to develop these intellectual skills and to prepare them for leaving the safety and comfort of hierarchy. They then can embrace the expanded degrees of freedom in the open organization and eventually thrive in the strange attractor environment of the leaderless organization. Typical soft skills training lacks method and is ineffective in dealing with the dynamic in organizations. It might very well be of some assistance in the life of the individual, but it will not affect the development of the organization.
Organizations and individuals must apply their own creativity and talent in defining themselves. This requires that managers-trust their people with the creation and implementation of strategies, and to be able to identify and solve the problems facing the organization. This occurs when an organization adopts peer-based thinking, charters peer councils as the primary decision-making bodies, and abandons its infatuation with "heroic", rank-based leaders.