Adaptive Hierarchy

Hierarchy is often criticized. Some call for it to be abolished. The call is naive. Hierarchy has always been with us and always will be with us. It is the natural outcome of human interaction. As we gain collective knowledge hierarchy becomes the most efficient way to organize.

It is not however the most adaptive way to organize. In a hierarchy it is natural for holders of authority to abuse their authority. Fear reigns and communication is distorted.

Hierarchies become disconnected from their purpose. This process is called goal inversion. Over time, the real goal is no longer to serve the customer or client but to serve the interests of the dominant coalition. Hospitals serve doctors, not patients, schools serve administrators and teachers, not students. The organization becomes “disintegrated” from the customer or client or community.

The key is leadership integrity. Leaders who continually clarify the highest purpose, who put the collective interest ahead of their own interests, and model authentic communication, build trust. When efficiency is combined with trust, organizations increase in capacity.

 

Reflection

When have I seen hierarchy decay?

When have I seen effective hierarchical leadership?

How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

 

 

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