Posted by: healingtheworkplace | June 7, 2008

The Right to Manage

I think that people should earn the RIGHT TO MANAGE. There are so many bad managers out there creating havoc in organizations. Somehow the selection process is not weeding them out.

A few years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Kenneth Cloke and Joan Goldsmith. They were teaching a workshop on conflict resolution at the Justice Institute in New Westminster. At the end of the workshop they gave each of us a book that they had written called The End of Management and the Rise of Organizational Democracy.

Can you imagine working in a democratic organization?  Would that mean that we would “elect” our leaders as we do in our communities? What a concept!

I’ve heard it said that leaders depend on having followers and that people only follow leaders that they admire and respect. This is not a relationship that can be coerced.

In North America we pride ourselves on our democratic governments BUT the idea of democratizing our workplaces is not widely talked about.

In my last post I talked about the difference between organizations and communities. Organizations are structured as to manage (control) people’s behavior. Communities form around common needs/interests. Communities need forms of control too but we’ll have to leave that for another discussion.

Cloke and Goldsmith have some interesting propositions. “We disagree that managers are essential to the work process, that we need them to get employees to work responsibly, and that it is impossible to solve problems or get anything done without them.”

They continue by stating, “All forms of managing other people’s work hinder their responsiblity, creativity, flexibility, responsiveness, and growth, even in small subtle ways. They prevent employees from being deeply connected and passionate about their work and keep them in a state of child-like dependence”.

Even though I like what Cloke and Goldsmith have to say I’m not sure that the workplace is ready for workers to stand up and take responsibility. Some of us are but a great many people are happy with the status quo, even though they may complain loudly.. about poor management.

The unhealthy dynamic between management and workers dates back over a hundred years and although a great many books have been written suggesting ways to change this power imbalance the status quo is slow to change.

Many of today’s managers have been influenced by the work of Douglas McGregor.  McGregor’s approach to management is commonly referred to as Theory X and Theory Y.

Managers who are influenced by Theory X believe that people are naturally lazy and that they work mostly for money and status rewards.

On the other hand, managers who are influenced by Theory Y believe that people are naturally interested in setting goals and achieving them and that they take pride in their achievements in all areas of their lives.  

What do you think? Are people naturally lazy and in need of strong managment or are people ready for a more democratic style of organization?




  1. Hi Lesley,

    Thanks so much for your great blog post on organizational democracy! I know Ken and Joan as we’re a part of a small but growing group of people working towards these ideas.

    You may also enjoy knowing about our company, WorldBlu, and the annual WorldBlu List of Most Democratic Workplaces, a list that highlights those organizations all over the world operating democratically.

    This year’s list included companies such as Linden Lab (makers of Second Life), 1-800-Got-Junk?, Pandora, and even the first Fortune 500 company to make the list — DaVita.

    This Oct. 16-17th in NYC we’re having our WorldBlu LIVE 2008 conference which brings together the CEOs of the most democratic workplaces in the world to share their stories, insights and best practices.

    Would be fun if you or any of your readers could join us!

    I invite you to learn more at

    Traci Fenton, Founder + CEO

  2. All about leadership and management of people.

    You wrote – “Even though I like what Cloke and Goldsmith have to say I’m not sure that the workplace is ready for workers to stand up and take responsibility.”

    McGregor provided his view in his assumptions of Theory Y, the last three of which are quoted below.

    4.The average human being learns, under proper conditions, not only to accept but to seek responsibility. Avoidance of responsibility, lack of ambition, and emphasis on security are generally consequences of experience, not inherent human characteristics.
    5.The capacity to exercise a relatively high degree of imagination, ingenuity, and creativity in the solution of organizational problems is widely, not narrowly, distributed in the population.
    6.Under conditions of modern industrial life, the intellectual potentialities of the average human being are only partially utilized.

    I would like to know what the basis of your opinion is, what facts you have to back it up.

    I happen to agree wholeheartedly with McGregor since in the course of my 34 years of managing people and four successful turnarounds of management disasters I proved exactly what he has said about both the top-down command and control approach to managing people and its opposite. In fact, I and everyone watching were absolutely stunned by the huge amount of creativity, innovation and productivity which was unleashed by shifting away from top-down to its opposite.

    For McGregor they were theories and theory Y had no means by which to execute it, but for me they were realities with a full set of whats, whys and how tos.

    Best regards, Ben
    Author “Leading People to be Highly Motivated and Committed”

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