Being a Leader Means Giving Up Control

Aaron Dignan in an interview with 99u:

Every organization has an operating system (OS). An OS is the assumptions, principles, and practices that you put into play. So, the metaphor of “the intersection” is a great example. How do we get two roads to cross without anybody hitting anybody?

The two different operating-system solutions for this example have two different sets of assumptions about people. The lighted intersection with the red, yellow, green light assumes that, generally, people ought not to be trusted, that they need to be told what to do and when to do it, and that we need an elaborate set of signals and controls to manage that behavior. It requires compliance and it does not require a lot of presence of mind. There’s this sort of passiveness to the way you participate in a lighted intersection. If the light’s red, you pull out your phone, check your email, turn on the radio. You’re not present in the space until you’re told what to do and then you jump back in.

A roundabout, on the other hand, has a different set of assumptions: that people can be trusted and need to respond to just a few rules, such as going with the flow with traffic and giving the right of way to people already in the circle. A roundabout leaves room for judgment. And it’s sufficient for it to outperform the lighted intersection in most contexts on almost every measure.

You’re looking for a system that is resilient; that is, enabling and growing and becoming without having to be directed by some hero leader. The thing about the roundabout is it works a hell of a lot better when the power goes out. When the unexpected happens, that system is resilient. When the unexpected happens at a stoplight, it’s complete pandemonium. If you think about financial crises or other things in business that totally uproot the system, if you have the right OS in place, you can be resilient. But if you don’t, it’s a complete nightmare.

I’m not optimistic or pessimistic. I’m just straight up worried and invested.