Hooray for Hierarchy!

Is it possible that in our zeal to humanize and streamline our organizations over the past two decades that we may have, in some instances, thrown the proverbial baby out with the bathwater? I speak here of the disregard or dim view some of us have developed for certain traditional management tools? There is at least some cause to consider this possibility. Hierarchy, especially in support of a “command and control” mindset may be one of the management tools that have suffered this fate without due consideration.

Saturday is now Zumba® day for me. I believe the unusual name is taken from the Spanish word for, “If you are an out of shape male over sixty you have no business here!”

There hasn’t always been a Zumba® day for me but it has become increasingly evident that I need to spend more time intentionally and actively moving my body as I get older and what better for that purpose than Latin dance in the middle of the day on the weekend?

So, mid-routine last weekend I began to develop a connection between my experience at that moment and conversations I have been having recently with associates about revisiting the value of hierarchy. Would it be possible to re-purpose organizational hierarchy, place it in a more democratic perspective, and in the process breathe life into what was once a revered yet frequently feared hallmark of organizational life? What if the vertical nature of a hierarchy was a function of its purpose and value in a democratic context? This would stand in contrast to the authoritarian context that now so automatically what comes to mind?

“Re-purposing hierarchy” was the thought that came to mind last Saturday as I swayed wanly in the back row of my Zumba® class. The class is scheduled for an hour but I noted that after about forty-five minutes the signals that were being sent to my legs and feet from my head were not being executed. I am not talking about insubordination here, simply failed execution, the spirit was willing but the flesh was weakened by that point.

If I were constrained by the traditional understandings of hierarchy, at that point I would make my commands even firmer and just tough it out for the full sixty minutes. In my younger days I was capable of that approach, mind over matter in a system that permitted such things to happen without major consequence.

There is a pretty compelling article in the November 8th issue of The New Yorker magazine, “The Perfect Stride” ,by Jennifer Kahn, about the life and accomplishments of Alberto Salazar, once considered the premier long distance runner in America. My conclusion from reading this piece was that Salazar may have sacrificed his future and legacy by over employing the command and control based hierarchy approach for short term benefit. I often fear US  public corporations are making the same mistake each financial quarter.

Last Saturday morning rather than allow vanity to attempt an override of the information I was receiving from my legs and feet I decided to listen. What I heard was affirmation; I had gotten what I came for. My heart rate was up, my legs were noodle-like, thoroughly exercised, and I had simply finished earlier than the rest of the people in the class! I was done and now I could look forward to the sauna. So I left.

What a different way to consider hierarchy, as a way to manage for the future as well as for the moment, consideration and appreciation given to all information received, viewed in  the best interest of the entire system, not merely some of its components. There is more to think about here but that’s enough for now, let’s hit the sauna!

By they way, who was it that thought putting mirrored walls in those exercise rooms was a good idea?

  • If you are a manager, where are you receiving information right now that you are choosing to ignore because it conflicts with the attainment of certain objectives?



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