Category Archives: Below the Line

Unity, Discord, and the Reality of Human Nature

If it is in fact true that organizational performance rises with growing levels of agreement, collaboration, reciprocity and shared vision, why do leaders accept significant (and largely avoidable) costs of disunity? 

Much has to do with widespread below-the-line beliefs that disunity is just the way things are.

“It’s human nature,” clients have again and again suggested in our consulting work, unwittingly giving voice to bedrock assumptions about the human condition. “People fight. They gossip. They clash. There’s nothing to be done about it.”

Unity, in this view, goes against fundamental realities of psychological makeup.

But is this true? Is disunity an inescapable feature of human nature?

It’s certainly true that disunity is not lacking in the workplace. It can be seen everywhere. Most of us have lived a lifetime in its churning waters.

Yet highly unified organizations do exist in the world, organizations in which collaboration, mutual assistance, and commonality of vision are the norm, not the exception.

And the fact that their facilities can be visited, their processes studied and documented, suggests that disunity is not an immutable law of nature, like gravity. Rather, it a choice organizations make – even if only implicitly and unconsciously – and is therefore one they can choose to not make.

Imagine an organization in which departments go out of their way to help one another. An organization in which all individuals make a point of placing the welfare of the whole organization above their personal concerns. An organization in which the success of any one person, office, or division is celebrated as the success of all.

Such organizations can be found. They may be  rare. They may be challenging to create. But the fact that they exist at all – and that their culture stems from connscious, concerted, and sustained effort, as opposed to the happy accident of circumstance – stands as testament to the fact that disunity and discord are not inescapable facts of life.

The unity organizations can establish if they make it a priority is far more than what many leaders believe is possible. A key question facing all leaders, then, is the degree to which they are prepared to make organizational unity an explicit and operational priority.

Involvement, Group Decision-Making, and the Path to Optimum Solutions

Involving employees in decisions that affect them and their work is crucial to capturing the human spirit in the workplace. Leaders, however, often resist involving employees in day-to-day affairs. Such reluctance stems in large part from leaders’ perceptions of both themselves and their employees. Because they were promoted into a position of leadership (and their… Continue Reading

Mental Models That Inhibit the Recognition of Employees

Recognition of and appreciation for the efforts of employees is central to a culture of engagement, ownership and commitment. The success of such initiatives, however, depends on more than questions of how, when, and in what venue. Leaders’ efforts at offering recognition are shaped — and potentially limited — by a host of below-the-line mental… Continue Reading

Capturing the Human Spirit

Leadership is a 100 percent human undertaking. Systems are populated by people. Policies are embraced or rejected by people. Plans are enacted or ignored by people.  And because of this, effective leadership hinges on a leader’s ability to access the talent, enhance the capacity, and develop the potential of people. But what are these human… Continue Reading

What We Believe, What We Think We Believe (3 of 3)

The first part in this series introduced the concept of the espoused theories we consciously believe in and the theories-in-use that actually determine our choices and behavior. The second installment explored how it is not only possible, but likely for there to be differences between those two sets of theories. But what can be done… Continue Reading

What We Believe, What We Think We Believe (2 of 3)

The first part in this series introduced the idea of espoused theories and theories in use. It also raised the possibility that the principles each of us consciously support might not be what are actually shaping our behavior and decisions. But what does this look like in practice? In our consulting work we were once… Continue Reading

What We Believe, What We Think We Believe (1 of 3)

Assessing minute-by-minute choices is a key aspect of the discipline of reflective leadership. But building a true picture of how we act turns out to be surprisingly difficult. Part of the difficulty stems from the way we think about our behavior. We all act in accordance with mental “maps” of what we believe to be… Continue Reading

The Humanity of Employees? 10 Propositions for Reflection

Thinking impacts behavior. This is true in all aspects of life, but its effects are particularly pronounced in leadership thinking about employees, where expectations and assumptions can create self-fulfilling prophesies — for both the better and the worse. Douglas McGregor, former professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, was one of the first business… Continue Reading

Above the Line, Below the Line (Part 2 of 2)

Last week we explored the relationship between the above-the-line world of external actions, behaviors, and choices, and the below-the-line world of internal assumptions, beliefs, and values. The former, we suggested, invariably flow from the latter. Our actions are necessarily driven by our mental models and emotions. Our choices are shaped by the ideals and paradigms… Continue Reading

© Copyright 1999-2012 Management Associates. All rights reserved.