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The Leadership Disconnect

“Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it.” — Vicktor Frankl

Frankl’s view of human existence cherishes individual uniqueness and the singular importance of each person’s contributions. Few would argue with his view of the essential value of each person and of each person’s work. Even so, most approaches to organization and to management are notably antithetical to Frankl’s conception. Exploring the disconnect between belief and application can be instructive.

Most contemporary approaches to organization and management are based on mission and process. The mission is the super-ordinate outcome which is, in turn, reduced to goals or sub-outcomes that collectively represent achievement of the mission. Processes are developed to achieve these sub-outcomes. People are then recruited to implement the processes. The recruits are, thus, expected to fill pre-defined roles, accept carefully limited responsibilities, and meet relatively fixed performance requirements.

Once people have opted to participate in this structure management literature offers a variety of strategies for maximizing performance. For example, Thomas J. Watson observed, “I believe the real difference between success and failure in a corporation can be very often traced to the question of how well the organization brings out the great energies and talents of its people.” One may assume that those great energies and talents are in the interest of supporting the organization’s pre-defined processes. Lee Iacocca asserted, “Management is nothing more than motivating other people.” Here too, the point is to support the organization’s established processes. Brian Tracy uses a slightly different strategy but the purpose is unchanged. “Practice Golden-Rule 1 of Management in everything you do. Manage others the way you would like to be managed.” Perhaps an alternative would be managing people the way they would like to be managed; but either way, the point remains to support the organization’s processes.

An alternative understanding of an organization and its people is possible. Start with a mission articulated by whoever wants to achieve a given super-ordinate outcome. This may be an individual, a group, a government, or a community. Define the tasks involved in and the skills needed to achieve the mission. Now only recruit people whose specific vocation or mission in life is supportive of and compatible with the organization’s mission and the skills needed to achieve that mission. You have no interest in people who are simply interested in a job, no matter how hard they will work. If you are going to produce milk, only hire people who love cows, have worked hard to have a career in dairy farming, and who are vitally concerned about the nutrition of people, especially children. Having hired the individual, discuss the tasks that need done and then delegate those that represent “a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment” both for the new employee and the organization. Repeat the process until there are enough people associated with the enterprise to handle all necessary tasks and successfully pursue achieving the organization’s mission. Thus, “everyone’s task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it.” Frankl would be proud of you. Just smile and use a few of Immanuel Kant’s words to let everyone know that you “always recognize that human individuals are ends, and do not use them as means to your end.”

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