Must we ignore science to re-humanize our theories of management?
I am sitting here with a pile of articles from the very thoughtful Gianpiero Petriglieri.
Good stuff. I’m glad he’s asking these questions in this moment.
At the root of his thinking is his article entitled, “F**k Science!? An Invitation to Humanize Organization Theory.” In the article, he calls on the Leadership Industrial Complex to move beyond ideological scientism to re-humanize our theories of and approaches to management.
Management is really about the science of efficiently extracting and exploiting material, machine, and human labor resources via Taylorism; measuring, optimizing, and holding accountable. Success in creating shareholder value is largely driven by automating jobs and measured by automated systems. Management’s dogmatic prioritization of measurement, data and analysis dehumanizes people by working from mechanistic mental models that hold humans as little more than troublesome, but ultimately fungible, units of production and consumption.
But the distinction between scientific management and humanistic leadership is a false one. We humans need science; we are smarter with science. We must put science in service of humanity, not vice-versa. The theoretical foundations underpinning this relationship smell bad, as Tim Leberecht writes. “Our individual and social bodies are quite sick, and it will need more than a vaccine to cure them.” It’s time to co-create new foundations that will spawn “living libraries” of fresh actions that might lead us to more humane methods and experiences.
Where do we start? Petriglieri suggests we kill our management ideas, but I contend that managers should be replaced by effective, humane leaders.
Humane leaders can grow out of the idea that we cannot lead others much differently than we lead ourselves.
If that’s true, then we need to look very carefully at how we lead ourselves. How do we motivate ourselves? How do we hold ourselves accountable? How do we measure our effectiveness?
Every one of us is experimenting daily with motivating ourselves and holding ourselves accountable. Some of those experiments have been running successfully for years, others are wildly uncontrolled experiments wavering by the hour.
We like to call the place where we personally experiment with more humane, effective methods of leading ourselves our “self leadership lab.”
As scientists in our own self leadership labs, we need to clarify our hypotheses, design our experiments, and collect data about our own experience. We need to analyze and synthesize clearly so we can learn and refine our experiments and theories. As Descartes says in his essay, Rules For Thinking,
“As regards any subject we proposed to investigate, we must inquire not what other people have thought or what we ourselves conjecture, but what we can clearly and manifestly perceive by intuition or deduce with certainty for there is no other way of acquiring knowledge.”
What’s working for you? How do you motivate yourself? Do you work for excellence, fun, money, or free lattes? What feels exploitative and what feels more edifying? What experiments might you run that would lead to your own self liberation, your own self edification? Once we start asking those questions, fresh experiments will naturally follow.
You can learn the fundamental truths of leading a complex human: you.
We must use our best intelligence, our most sensitive attunement to our own feelings, and our deepest intuitions to feed our experimental process so that we can learn the fundamental truths of our own humanity and gain insights into the humanity of those we lead.
Once you discover a theory and a practice that works for you, then you can test it with others on your team. From that seed of curiosity and compassion a fresh, humane, effective insight will grow. Those new, more effective leadership theories will soon crowd out the tired, smelly old models and methods.
So now my questions for you are:
- How does your measure of success resonate with your team?
- Does your team respond to the same motivators that you use with yourself?
- How do you respond to the motivators you try to use with your team?
I am reminded of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay, History, where he says,
“Of the universal mind each individual man is one more incarnation. All its properties consist in him. Each new fact in his private experience flashes a light on what great bodies of men have done, and the crises of his life refer to national crises. Every revolution was first a thought in one man’s mind, and when the same thought occurs to another man, it is the key to that era.”
This co-creation of a new, humane leadership doesn’t require vast data sets. It requires curiosity, compassion, and the scientific method applied in our own self leadership labs. This process lets us each become part of a self-teaching organism– a self-generated, self-refining, self liberating intelligence.
I look forward to being in your scientific community,
Stephen Sloan is the founder of the Humane Leadership Institute and author of the new book, Humane Leadership.