Thursday, 8 May 2014

Incredible Plasticity

An excerpt from the book Homo Imitans by Leandro Herrero:

If the Social Sciences teach us anything, it is about our incredible plasticity, which we are always more ready to attribute to others than to ourselves. And this fantastic capacity is precisely the good/bad news to consider. Bad news √† la Iraq, good news √† la all the possible good that roles and uniforms could provide in daily life. And since most of our daily life is spent at work, all the above applies to management and leadership. The problem is that management science has developed thick membranes, as if it needed to protect itself from intrusions by Psychology, Sociology and the other Sciences de l’Homme. Milgram and Zimbardo are not taught in business schools, but I can’t think of a better starting point to discuss leadership.

Back to the news. Another article I read was cynical about the ‘new’ Iraqi police. The occupying forces had finally realized there was no option but to bring back the old police force and the military that had been disbanded. The columnist joked about seeing the old moustaches and the old faces back” and could not understand how we should expect new behaviour from them. Most people would sympathize with this point of view but the tiny minority that belongs to the Social Psychology tribe would have no problem accepting it. If the context changes (and, indeed, it
has) this police force may surprise people with its ability to comply with the new regime. A change of uniform and context may create some good, even with the old moustaches. Similarly, providing a positive context in organizations (this is the leader’s function) makes roles and uniforms constructive. The same roles—managers, directors, project leaders, heads of HR and vicepresidents— in a negative context create havoc.

The key is the existence or absence of agreement on nonnegotiable behaviours, hopefully, but not necessarily, linked to a value system. These non-negotiable behaviours were probably absent in Abu Ghraib, or everything there was possible and negotiable in a contingent way – that is, depending on what needs to be achieved; for example, weakness in the detainees. Contingent approaches in management and leadership are wonderfully convenient and deeply dangerous, not something that traditional business education is prepared to accept. My unofficial father of contingent leadership is Jack Welch, ex-CEO of General Electric.

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