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A New Kind of Organization Based on Purpose and

by Donella Meadows' (Dana) The Global Citizen, December 23, 1999

What do the Internet, Alcoholics Anonymous, and VISA International, the organization that
brings us the VISA card, all have in common?

You can find them just about anywhere on earth, that's one common thing.
They have not spread through unrelenting market push, like Coca Cola.
Rather they are pulled by demand, because they meet real needs very effectively.
They serve their purposes successfully year after year without any obvious headquarters, no
glittering center of power, no centralized command.
No one owns any of them.
VISA does $1.25 trillion worth of business a year, but you can't buy a share of it.
Dee Hock, who founded VISA, would say these are all chaordic organizations.
He made up that word by combining "chaos" and "order."
Chaordic organizations are self-organizing and self-governing.
They operate not through hierarchies of authority, but through networks of equals.
It isn't power or coercion that makes them effective, rather it's clear shared purpose, ethical
operating principles, and responsibility distributed through every node.

It's in the interest of every computer owner hooking onto the Internet to be sure that no one
messes up the functioning of the Internet. It's in the interest of every alcoholic to know there will
always be a place to turn for help. It's in the interest of every card-issuing bank, card-accepting
merchant, and card-using customer to know that payments will go through, accounts will be kept
accurately, bills will be paid.
Chaordic organizations, like any organization, may be abused by the incompetent or the criminal,
but they have astounding powers of self-policing and self-repair.

In his new book Birth of the Chaordic Age Dee Hock tells three stories at three levels: his own
life story, the story of VISA, and a profound story about human institutions.

Raised in a Mormon family in Utah, Hock developed a strong aversion to central control.
Brought in to save the failing Bank Americard system, he envisioned, years before electronic
funds transfers, an organization that "could guarantee, transport, and settle transactions twenty-
four hours a day, seven days a week, around the globe."
That was the function of a bank, but far beyond the power of any single bank.
"It would require a transcendental organization linking together in wholly new ways an
unimaginable complex of institutions and individuals."

"At the time did I think it could be done? No! Did I think the Bank of America would give up
ownership? No! Did I think banks worldwide could be brought together in such an effort? No!
Did I think laws would allow it? No!
But did I believe it was what ought to be? Ah, that was another question indeed!"

By now we take credit cards for granted.

It's worth imagining for a moment the network of organizations and the flow of information that
allows all those purchases to be billed correctly to all those customers with all those banks
guaranteeing that all those merchants will be paid, in any currency, anywhere in the world.
What holds it together is a set of principles (merchants don't pad the bill, banks don't withhold
payments, customers pay up) and above all a purpose.

The purpose is "what ought to be."

Hock says it's the hard part of any chaordic alliance, getting the purpose right, making it
consistent with real need, with the laws of the planet, with the mysteries of life.
Purpose is derived from morality, from vision, from collective wisdom, not from individual
ambition or greed.
That, says Hock, is where the whole industrial system, including both corporations and
governments, has gotten so far off track.

"Life is not about controlling. It's not about getting. It's not about having. It's not about knowing.
It's not even about being.
Life is eternal, perpetual becoming, or it is nothing.
Becoming is not a thing to be known or controlled.
It is a magnificent, mysterious odyssey to be experienced."

"At bottom, desire to command and control is a deadly compulsion to rob self and others of the
joys of living. ...
Is it any wonder that a society that worships the primacy of measurement, prediction, and control
should result in destruction of the environment, maldistribution of wealth and power, mass
destruction of species, the Holocaust, the hydrogen bomb and countless other horrors? How
could it be otherwise, when for centuries we have conditioned ourselves with ever more
powerful notions of engineered solutions, domination, compelled behavior, and separable self-

"Money, markets, and measurement have their place.

They are important tools indeed.
We should honor them and use them. but they are far short of the deification their apostles
demand of us, and before which we too readily sink to our knees. Only fools worship their

Strange talk for a banker.

Hock retired from VISA, with no stock options, no fortune, intending just to enjoy nature and his
But the depredations of the non-chaordic institutions of the world pulled him back into helping
other groups envision transcendent purposes and put together non-hierarchical organizational

He is working with east coast fishermen who have managed to collapse their own resource, to
form the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance.
After a year of discussion, it has defined its purpose: "to restore and enhance an enduring
Northwest Atlantic marine system that supports a healthy and diverse abundance of marine life
and commercial, recreational, aesthetic and other uses."

Strange talk for a bunch of fishermen.

He is trying, with representatives of the increasingly dysfunctional U.S. health care system "to
create a new concept of organization that will enable all individuals to have access to the
information, assistance and resources necessary for them to achieve their optimum health."

Wow! Isn't it great to hear someone articulating and taking seriously the challenge of creating
what ought to be?

The Chaordic Way of Organization

A Concept Paper - Harlan Cleveland (Draft)

In order to think through what it will mean to organize human activity "chaordically," which is to
say in an uncentralized fashion, we will need to consider:
• How we got here -- the shift from hierarchical to uncentralized

• The role of information, now the world's dominant resource, in speeding and facilitating that

• The central role of standards in making uncentralization work; and

• The evident steps along the path to chaordic organization.

a. The Chaordic Way of Organization

i. The Passing of Pyramids
ii. The Information Imperative
iii. The Need for Standards
iv. Hints on How to Organize

The Passing of Pyramids
Opting for pyramids as the “natural” form of organization may have seemed natural in some
European, Japanese, and other cultures long submissive to monarchs or emperors governing by a
mixture of divine right and military readiness.
But the founding fathers of the United States of America had something very different in mind.
They were themselves undeniably upperclass, some even slaveholders.
But the rhetoric of their Revolution had broken loose from hierarchies of right and might; it was
full of inalienable rights and populist righteousness.

These leaders of an “underdeveloped” colony declared our eighteenthcentury independence in

human-rights language that much of the world caught up with only in the twentieth -- under the
leadership of that woman-of-the-century, Eleanor Roosevelt – and leaders in some parts of the
world haven’t yet understood.

The founders then drafted a Constitution that departed dramatically from the oppressive
pyramids the colonists had fled and learned to despise.
Indeed, without ever quite saying so, they created the basis for a nobody-incharge society -- quite
literally a first-time experiment in uncentralized governance.
The “separation of powers” with its “checks and balances” was explicitly designed to deny any
part of our Federal government the chance to make too much yardage at the expense of the other
parts – and of the people it was supposed to serve.

The Federal system itself was designed to create a continuous tussle between the states and the
central government. The tussle was intended to be permanent; no part of the Federal system was
supposed to “win it all,” not ever.

It is not just the durability of their extraordinary invention that testifies to the founders’ wisdom.
It is clear from the record they left that they – at least, the deepest thinkers among them, James
Madison and Thomas Jefferson -- knew just how unprecedented was the system they were
The people were really supposed to be sovereign. Jefferson still believed this, even after his eight
years of trying, as President (1801-09), to be their “servant leader.”

“I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves,”
Thomas Jefferson wrote to a friend in 1820, “and if we think them not enlightened enough to
exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to
inform their discretion.”

Think of it this way: Pyramid-building was always, and is even more today, essentially
The authentic American tradition calls for the invention of systems in which nobody is in general
charge -- and, in consequence, each citizen is partly in charge.

That authentic tradition began to take hold of our destiny in the second half of the twentieth
Just below the surface in every kind of organization, something important was happening,
something very different from the vertical practice – recommendations up, orders down -- of
both public administration and business management.

The “bright future for complexity,” foretold in a 1927 New Yorker story by E. B. White, was
coming to pass in the U.S.A. – prodded and speeded by the modern miracles of information

The sheer complexity of what had to get done – by governments and corporations, but also by
their myriad contractors and subcontractors and their nonprofit critics and cheerleaders –
required huge numbers of people to exercise independent judgment, think for themselves, and
consult with each other, not just “do as you’re told.”
There were still, to be sure, distinctions between organizations where the style of management is
looser and more collegial and others where recommendations mostly go up and orders mostly
come down. But by the end of the 20th century, all kinds of organizations – from Marine
platoons to urban hospitals -- were moving away from vertical administration toward more
consultative styles of operation.

The century just past thus opened a widening contrast between how organizations were described
and how they really worked. So naturally, the search has been on for alternatives to centralization
as an organizing concept.
The first and seemingly obvious candidate was decentralization.

It turned out that most of the central administrators who opted to decentralize found, to their
satisfaction, that this was a new way to preserve hierarchy.
If things were becoming so complicated that grandpa could no longer understand it all, he could
still subdivide and parcel out the work to be done – while hanging onto central control with more
and more creative accounting systems. Decentralization thus became an aspect, indeed a
subhead, of centralization.

The real opposite of centralization is of course uncentralization.

Mao Tse-tung played with this idea for a time; he called it “many flowers blooming.”
Then he pulled back when it became clear that if China really permitted people’s free exercise of
opinion and initiative, the Communist Party’s central control would be the first casualty.

Meanwhile, the underlying American bias favoring looser systems – featuring personal initiative,
voluntary cooperation, joint ventures, committee work, and “networking” – was being reinforced
by the dazzling progress of information technology and its impact on everything from
elementary education to the understanding of our universe.

The Information Imperative

The rapid drift toward uncentralized systems is not a temporary aberration from some centralized
It is happening because information has recently become the world’s dominant resource – and
because information is fundamentally different from land, minerals, energy, and other physical
resources that have heretofore played the starring role in world history.

The marriage of computers and telecommunications multiplied the speed and extended to global
range financial speculation, business transactions, military operations, political dissidence, and
humanitarian activity.

And the widening access to information about what’s happening, about who is doing what to
whom and when and where, brought into financial markets and business decisions and military
strategy and political protest and even humanitarian relief a host of kibitzers, lobbyists, and
second-guessers who knew so much – or could readily discover it on the Internet -- that they had
to be taken into account.

Centralized hierarchies were in the nature of things.

But information is symbols, not things.
Uncentralized networks are the appropriate technology for management in a symbols

The direction of this change was already becoming obvious during the latter part of the twentieth
century. Everywhere, we saw a shift from topdown “vertical” relationships toward more
“horizontal,” consensual, collaborative modes of organizing.

The most effective leaders in this new century will be those who learn, early and often, how to
fuse chaos and order in uncentralized systems.

It was in the nature of things that the few had access to key resources and the many did not: there
never seemed to be enough to go around.
The inherent characteristics of physical resources (the natural ones and those created by human
ingenuity) made possible – perhaps even necessary -- the development of hierarchies of five
kinds: hierarchies of power based on control (of new weapons, of transport vehicles, of trade
routes, or markets, and even of knowledge back when secrets could be secure), hierarchies of
influence based on secrecy, hierarchies of class based on ownership, hierarchies of privilege
based on early access to particular pieces of land or especially valuable resources, and
hierarchies of politics based on geography.

Each of these five bases for hierarchy and discrimination was crumbling in the waning years of
the twentieth century.
The old means of control were of dwindling efficacy. Secrets were harder and harder to keep (as
the CIA and the White House seemed to have to relearn every few weeks).
And ownership, early arrival, and geography were of declining importance in accessing,
remembering, analyzing, and using the knowledge and wisdom that are the really valuable legal
tender of our time.

The complexities of modern life, and the interconnectedness of everything to everything else,
mean that in our communities, our nations, and our world, nobody can possibly know enough to
be in general charge of anything important or interesting.
This state of affairs is becoming more apparent with each passing year.

The passing of pyramids opens up a fast-growing requirement for people who can and will take
the lead -- and requires very different attitudes and strategies for those who opt to point the way.

In modern societies many organizations still look like pyramids from a distance; but both their
internal processes and their external relations feature much less order-giving, much more
consultation and consensus.

In systems where nobody can be in general charge, everybody has a chance to be partly in
Most people will not, for one reason or another, reach for that brass ring.
Those who do, whatever their nominal "positions" in the loose-fitting knowledge environment,
will be our leaders.

With every generation of information technology – that is, every two or three years – our future
becomes more uncentralized.
That has to be good news – for individual creativity and invention, for personal freedom, for
human choice.

The Need for Standards

The paradoxical key to a genuinely uncentralized system is mutually agreed standards on

whatever is central to the system and thus cannot be left to individual choices or market

The largest uncentralized systems, and perhaps the most obvious, are the international monetary
system and the Internet. The comparative values of each nation's currency depend so much on
decisions that national governments and large aggregations of wealth make from day to day that
none of them can possibly control the millions of transactions that, for some years now, have
amounted to more than a trillion dollars a day.

Even when the governments of the biggest countries intervene in efforts to influence the price of
a particular money, they mostly manage to demonstrate only how ineffectual those interventions

There are, of course rigid standards to which all participants in the international money market
have to adhere.
So far, these are essentially technical standards.
They don't require ethical behavior by speculators, nor do they guarantee that even governments
move toward a fairer distribution of wealth.
What enables large uncentralized systems to work at all is mutual adjustment.
A wide availability of relevant information enables each participant to figure out what the others
might do under varied conditions, and give forth useful signals for them to use in turn.

Perhaps the best current example of mutual adjustment at work is the Internet -- at least on a
good day.
People all over the world are exchanging information, images, music, and voice messages, with
so little regulation that their "commerce" is often noncommercial, in effect a multilateral barter

Many of their transactions are essentially not exchange, but sharing, arrangements.
Where there are rules of behavior, they are increasingly arrived at by consensus among the
participants, or at least are ratified in action by those who will be guided by them.

That doesn’t mean the rule-abiding citizens are serfs, doing some lord’s bidding.
If the rules work, it’s because nearly all those who need to abide by them are motivated to
comply because the rules make sense to them.
In the developing culture of the World Wide Web, there are more and more examples of
enforcement by peer-pressure.

Large numbers of people exercise their privilege of excluding messages from ill-mannered
participants or refusing to do business with individuals or Web sites they regard as untrustworthy
-- and tell each other when they make such decisions.

In some ways the most dramatic, and least remarked, nobody-in charge system is the way
international standards are already set for many thousands of products and services.
It started in 1906, with engineers trying to make sure that “electrotechnical” gadgets would fit
together and work the way they were supposed to work, anywhere in the world. Other engineers
picked up the idea in some other fields. But it wasn’t until after World War II, in 1947, that an
International Organization for Standardization was formed.

The organization is called ISO.

That’s not an acronym, which wouldn’t work for a multilingual club anyway.
Derived from the Greek isos, meaning “equal,” it’s the root of the prefix “iso-” that occurs in
many words such as “isometric” (of equal measure or dimensions), “isodynamic” (having the
same strength or intensity), and “isonomy” (equality of political rights).

As ISO’s website puts it: “From ‘equal’ to ‘standard’, the line of thinking that led to the choice of
‘ISO’ as the name of the organization is easy to follow.”

The first ISO standard, a “reference temperature for industrial length measurement,” was
published in 1951.
Half a century later, there are now more than 13,544 International Standards, recorded on
403,608 pages.
This standard-setting, coordinated by a nongovernment from a headquarters in Switzerland, costs
less than $90,000,000 a year and engages the efforts of some 30,000 “experts on loan,” working
as equal partners in 2,885 committees and working groups, in a wide variety of technical fields.
Their commonsense approach has been summed up this way: “Do it once, do it right, do it

ISO standards are voluntary – that is, enforced in the market-place: if you produce something
fastened by screws that aren’t standard, the word will get around fast and customers will shun

They are industry-wide, designed to provide global solutions to satisfy suppliers and consumers
And they are developed by consensus.

Consensus doesn’t mean unanimous consent.

An ISO standard can be adopted if it is approved by two-thirds of those actively involved and is
blessed by three-quarters of the ISO members – national standard-setting bodies -- that vote.
Maybe they don't even need voting rules, just a commonsense definition of consensus: “. . . the
acquiescence of those who care about each particular decision, supported by the apathy of those
who don’t.”
Once international standards are set -- for metric screw threads, for bolts, for welding, for
electronic data processing, for paper sizes, for automobile control symbols, for the safety of wire
ropes, for film speed codes, for freight containers, and even for country names, currencies, and
languages -- a genuinely free market is possible.

Competition within the rules of the game can be free and fair – and markets that are both free
and fair are likely to grow faster than others.

If you carry three credit cards in your wallet, they will look very much alike – the magnetic code
is in a predictable place on each card – because they adhere to an ISO standard.

The three financial institutions that issued them cooperated on that, but now they happily
compete for your custom – happily, because each is operating in a much larger market than any
of them could reach if they hadn’t first cooperated with each other.

Hints on How to Organize

How to conceive, plan, organize, and lead human institutions in ways that best release human
ingenuity and maximize human choice is one of the great conundrums of the century now ahead
of us.

The long-ago philosophy and recent history of the U.S.A. provide useful hints for people who
bring other people together in organizations to make something different happen. This is a game
anyone can play. Here, for starters, are some hints from my own experience.

No individual can be truly “in general charge” of anything interesting or important.

That means everyone involved is partly in charge.
How big a part each participant plays will much depend on how responsible he or she feels for
the general outcome of the collective effort.

Broader is better.
The more people affected by a decision feel they were consulted about it, the more likely it is
that the decision will stick.
Looser is also better. The fewer and narrower are the “rules” that everyone involved must follow,
the more room there is for individual discretion and initiative, small-group insights and
inventions, regional adaptations, functional variations.
Flexibility and informality are good for co-workers’ morale, constituency support, investor
enthusiasm, customer satisfaction.

Planning is not “architecture,” it’s more like fluid drive.

Real-life planning is improvisation on a general sense of direction – announced by the few
perhaps, but only after genuine consultation with the many who will need to improvise on it.

Information is for sharing, not hoarding.

Planning staffs, systems analysis units, and others whose fulltime assignment is to think,
shouldn’t report only in secret to some “boss.”
Their relevant knowledge has to be shared, sooner rather than later, with all those who might be
able to use it to advance the organization’s purpose.

(Some years ago Japanese auto companies – advised by a genius engineer from Michigan –
started sharing much more information on productivity with workers on the assembly lines.
Small groups of workers on the factory floor, reacting to that information, were able to think up
countless little changes that increased speed, cut costs, improved quality, enhanced productivity.
Quite suddenly, Japanese autos became globally supercompetitive.)

Add your own hints-from-experience, to taste.

• **
It may be helpful to sum up – and thus oversimplify – the rationale for the uncentralized systems
that seem likely to be more and more characteristic of the post-post-modern era now ahead of us:

• In order for any complex activity to run in an uncentralized manner, there have to be some rules
of the game (like the ISO standards).

• The rules need to be adopted by a sufficiently participatory, or representative, process, to

persuade nearly all the “followers” they have been part of the “leadership.”

• Until the rules are truly acceptable shared doctrine, there needs to be some interim authority
(the policeman at an urban intersection, the foreman in a company, the guru in an ashram, a
parent in a family) to remind everybody about the agreed rules.

• In time, the “rules” become internalized standards of behaviour – and the resulting community
doesn’t need anybody to be “in charge.”
• The “rules” are then learned at a parent’s knee or at school, by adult training and experience,
and by informal (but effective) peer pressure.

Procedural reminders and requisite services can mostly be automated – as with signal lights for
automobile traffic, and ATMs for routine banking.

In every well-functioning market, most of those involved in the myriad transactions are able to
buy when they want to buy and sell when they want to sell, precisely because no one is in charge,
telling them what to do.

The discipline is instead provided by wide and instant knowledge of the prevailing price of
whatever is sought or offered. Modern information technologies have made this knowledge
spread possible on a global scale.

The uncentralized way of thinking and working naturally becomes more complicated as
“civilization” moves from the small homogeneous village to large multicultural societies, and
beyond that to the governance of “communities” in cyberspace.

But there is evidently a path from (a) the need for standards, through (b) the practice of
consensus and (c) the constituting of interim authorities (whose mandate is to work themselves
out of their interim jobs), to (d) patterns of naturally cooperative behavior. It's a path that may
become universally valid for organized human effort however complex it has to be.

Once upon a time, it seems to have required centuries and even millennia for human societies to
find their way along a path without precedent.
But everything else is speeded up these days.
Maybe, once we can trace the path, our capacity to build uncentralized organizations will also be
greatly accelerated.

NOTE: This paper draws from writings in a book, Nobody in Charge: Essays on the Future of
Leadership, by Harlan Cleveland, published in May 2002 by Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA.
For the background on chaordic organization, it assumes the reader's familiarity with Dee Hock's
Birth of the Chaordic Age (San Francisco, CA: Barrett-Koehler, 1999). Harlan Cleveland, 46891
Grissom St., Sterling, VA 20165 ,

The Art of Chaordic Leadership

by Dee Hock
Leader to Leader, No. 15 Winter 2000

Thought Leaders Forum:

Dee Hock
Dee Hock is founder and coordinating director of the Chaordic Alliance.
Its purpose is to develop, disseminate and implement new concepts of organization.
Hock is also founder and CEO emeritus of both Visa USA and Visa International, now a $1.25
trillion enterprise jointly owned by more than 20,000 financial institutions.
He is a laureate in the Business Hall of Fame and author of the recently released Birth of the
Chaordic Age. (1/2000)

This article appears as "The Art of Chaordic Leadership" (Chapter 7) in On Mission and

There was a time a few years back when for one brief moment the essence
of leadership was crystal clear to me. Strangely, it was after leaving
Visa and moving to a small, isolated ranch for a life of study and
contemplation, raising a few cattle. I was attending to chores in the
barn, comfortable and secure from the wind howling about the eaves and
the roar of torrential rain on the tin roof. Through the din, I became
aware of the faint, persistent bellowing of one of the cows. Awareness
gradually rose that the bellowing was unusual.

Flashlight in hand, I plunged into the storm and worked my way across
the pasture in the direction of the sound. On the far side, in the
circle of light from the flash, I could make out Eunice, the huge,
one-horned mother cow. Sheltered in the corral to await the imminent
birth of her calf, she had somehow gotten out and sought a private
place to give birth -- unfortunately, on the brink of a steep bank
fifteen feet above a flooded creek which raged through a ravine choked
with poison oak and wild blackberry vines.

I raced to the spot and saw from trampled ground and smashed bushes
what had happened. She had given birth. The calf, struggling to gain
its feet, had slipped over the edge and plunged down the bank into the
creek, then desperately tried to climb the sheer bank to get free of
the water. Eunice had done all that she could, racing up and down the
bank, bellowing and searching in vain for a way down. By the time I
responded to her cries, the calf had been swept downstream beneath
tangled vines and brambles.

Grabbing at limbs and bushes, I half fell, half stumbled down the sheer
bank into the creek. Pushed by the rushing, icy water, I worked my way
under and through the thickets and brambles. In a bend of the creek a
hundred feet downstream, I spotted the exhausted calf fighting to keep
its head above water. By the time I arrived, it had given up and was
submerged. I pulled it onto a shelf of rocks beneath the mass of
tangled growth and began pumping its ribs trying to eject water and
assist its breathing. It was a magnificent, dark-red, bull calf, the
hair on its flank a mass of curls, its soft hoofs torn and bleeding
from efforts to climb the bank. It revived a little and began to kick
and struggle. Pocketing the flashlight I managed to heave it across my
shoulders and began a struggle upstream to the place where I had
entered, and might have a chance to climb out.

That does a one-horned mother cow have to do with leadership? The

answer requires a bit of reflection. Let's begin with a few words about
words. Words are only secondarily the means by which we communicate;
they're primarily the means by which we think. One can scarcely think
or talk of organizations or management these days without coming across
what leading thinkers from many disciplines believe will be the
principal science of the next century: the understanding of
autocatalytic, nonlinear, complex, adaptive systems, usually referred
to as "complexity."

The word is much too vague to describe such systems. After searching
various lexicons in vain for a more suitable word, it seemed simpler to
construct one. Since such systems, perhaps even life itself, are
believed to arise and thrive on the edge of chaos with just enough
order to give them pattern, I borrowed the first syllable of each,
combined them and chaord (kayord) emerged.

By chaord, I mean any self-organizing, self governing, adaptive,

nonlinear, complex organism, organization, community or system, whether
physical, biological or social, the behavior of which harmoniously
blends characteristics of both chaos and order. Loosely translated to
business, it can be thought of as an organization that harmoniously
blends characteristics of competition and cooperation; or from the
perspective of education, an organization that seamlessly blends
theoretical and experiential learning. As I learned from the formation
and operation of Visa, an early archetype of such organizations, they
require a much different consciousness about the leader/follower

Leader presumes follower. Follower presumes choice. One who is coerced

to the purposes, objectives, or preferences of another is not a
follower in any true sense of the word, but an object of manipulation.
Nor is the relationship materially altered if both parties voluntarily
accept the dominance of one by the other. A true leader cannot be bound
to lead. A true follower cannot be bound to follow. The moment they are
bound they are no longer leader or follower. If the behavior of either
is compelled, whether by force, economic necessity, or contractual
arrangement, the relationship is altered to one of
superior/subordinate, manager/employee, master/servant, or owner/slave.
All such relationships are materially different from leader/follower.

Induced behavior is the essence of leader/follower. Compelled behavior

is the essence of all the other relational concepts. Where behavior is
compelled, there you will find tyranny, however benign. Where behavior
is induced, there you will find leadership, however powerful.
Leadership does not necessarily imply constructive, ethical, open
conduct. It is entirely possible to induce destructive, malign, devious
behavior, and to do so by corrupt means. Therefore, a clear,
constructive purpose and compelling ethical principles evoked from and
shared by all participants should be the essence of every relationship
in every institution.

A vital question is how to insure that those who lead are constructive,
ethical, open, and honest. The answer is to follow those who behave in
that manner. It comes down to both individual and collective sense of
where and how people choose to be led. In a very real sense, followers
lead by choosing where to be led. Where an organizational community
will be led is inseparable from the shared values and beliefs of its

True leaders are those who epitomize the general sense of the community
-- who symbolize, legitimize and strengthen behavior in accordance with
the sense of the community -- who enable its shared purpose, values and
beliefs to emerge and be transmitted. A true leader's behavior is
induced by the behavior of every individual choosing where to be led.

The important thing to remember is that true leadership and induced

behavior have an inherent tendency to the good, while tyranny
(dominator management) and compelled behavior have an inherent tendency
to evil.

Management inevitably is viewed as exercise of authority -- but that

perception is mistaken.

Over the years, I have had long discussions with thousands of people
throughout many different organizations about management: aspirations
to it, dissatisfaction with it, or confusion about it. To avoid
ambiguity, I always ask each person to describe the single most
important responsibility of any manager. The incredibly diverse
responses always have one thing in common: they are downward-looking.
Management inevitably is viewed as exercise of authority -- with
selecting employees, motivating them, training them, appraising them,
organizing them, directing them, controlling them. That perception is
The first and paramount responsibility of anyone who purports to manage
is to manage self: one's own integrity, character, ethics, knowledge,
wisdom, temperament, words, and acts. It is a complex, unending,
incredibly difficult, oft-shunned task. We spend little time and rarely
excel at management of self precisely because it is so much more
difficult than prescribing and controlling the behavior of others.
However, without management of self no one is fit for authority no
matter how much they acquire, for the more authority they acquire the
more dangerous they become. It is the management of self that should
occupy 50 percent of our time and the best of our ability. And when we
do that, the ethical, moral and spiritual elements of management are

Asked to identify the second responsibility of any manager, again

people produce a bewildering variety of opinions, again
downward-looking. Another mistake. The second responsibility is to
manage those who have authority over us: bosses, supervisors,
directors, regulators, ad infinitum. Without their consent and support,
how can we follow conviction, exercise judgment, use creative ability,
achieve constructive results or create conditions by which others can
do the same? Managing superiors is essential. Devoting 25 percent of
our time and ability to that effort is not too much.

Asked for the third responsibility, people become uncertain. Yet, their
thoughts remain on subordinates. Mistaken again. The third
responsibility is to manage one's peers -- those over whom we have no
authority and who have no authority over us -- associates, competitors,
suppliers, customers -- one's entire environment if you will. Without
their respect and confidence little or nothing can be accomplished. Our
environment and peers can make a small heaven or hell of our life. Is
it not wise to devote at least 20 percent of our time, energy, and
ingenuity to managing them?

Asked for the fourth responsibility, people have difficulty coming up

with an answer, for they are now troubled by thinking downward.
However, if one has attended to self, superiors, and peers there is
nothing else left. Obviously, the fourth responsibility is to manage
those over whom we have authority. The common response is that all
one's time will be consumed managing self, superiors and peers. There
will be no time to manage subordinates. Exactly! One need only select
decent people, introduce them to the concept, induce them to practice
it, and enjoy the process. If those over whom we have authority
properly manage themselves, manage us, manage their peers, and
replicate the process with those they employ, what is there to do but
see they are properly recognized, rewarded -- and stay out of their

It is not making better people of others that leadership is about. In

today's world effective leadership is chaordic. It's about making a
better person of self. Income, power and position have nothing to do
with that. In fact, they often interfere with it.

The obvious question then always erupts. How do you manage superiors,
bosses, regulators, associates, customers? The answer is equally
obvious. You cannot. But can you understand them? Can you persuade
them? Can you motivate them? Can you disturb them, influence them,
forgive them? Can you set them an example? Eventually the proper word
emerges. Can you lead them?

Of course you can, provided only that you have properly led yourself.
There are no rules and regulations so rigorous, no organization so
hierarchical, no bosses so abusive that they can prevent us from
behaving this way. No individual and no organization, short of killing
us, can prevent such use of our energy, ability, and ingenuity. They
may make it more difficult, but they can't prevent it. The real power
is ours, not theirs, provided only that we can work our way around the

It is easy to test this chaordic concept of leadership. Reflect a

moment on group endeavors of which you are an observer rather than
participant. If your interest runs to ballet, you can undoubtedly
recall when the corps seemed to rise above the individual ability of
each dancer and achieve a magical, seemingly effortless performance. If
your interest runs to sports, the same phenomenon is apparent: teams
whose performance transcends the ability of individuals. The same can
be observed in the symphony, the theater, in fact, every group
endeavor, including business and government.

Every choreographer, conductor, and coach -- or for that matter,

corporation president -- has tried to distill the essence of such
performance. Countless others have tried to explain and produce a
mechanistic, measurably controlled process that will cause the
phenomenon. It has never been done and it never will be. It is easily
observed, universally admired, and occasionally experienced. It
happens, but cannot be deliberately done. It is rarely long sustained
but can be repeated. It arises from the relationships and interaction
of those from which it is composed. Some organizations seem
consistently able to do so, just as some leaders seem able to cause it
to happen with consistency, even within different organizations.

To be precise, one cannot speak of leaders who cause organizations to

achieve superlative performance, for no one can cause it to happen.
Leaders can only recognize and modify conditions which prevent it;
perceive and articulate a sense of community, a vision of the future, a
body of principle to which people can become passionately committed,
then encourage and enable them to discover and bring forth the
extraordinary capabilities that lie trapped in everyone struggling to
get out.

The most abundant, least expensive, and most constantly abused resource
in the world is human ingenuity.
Without question, the most abundant, least expensive, most
under-utilized, and constantly abused resource in the world is human
ingenuity. The source of that abuse is mechanistic, Industrial Age,
dominator concepts of organization and the management practices they

In the deepest sense, distinction between leaders and followers is

meaningless. In every moment of life, we are simultaneously leading and
following. There is never a time when our knowledge, judgment and
wisdom are not more useful and applicable than that of another. There
is never a time when the knowledge, judgment and wisdom of another are
not more useful and applicable than ours. At any time that "other" may
be superior, subordinate, or peer.

Everyone was born a leader. Who can deny that from the moment of birth
they were leading parents, siblings, and companions? Watch a baby cry
and the parents jump. We were all born leaders; that is, until we were
sent to school and taught to be managed and to manage.

People are not "things" to be manipulated, labeled, boxed, bought, and

sold. Above all else, they are not "human resources." We are entire
human beings, containing the whole of the evolving universe, limitless
until we are limited, whether by self or others. We must examine the
concept of leading and following with new eyes. We must examine the
concept of superior and subordinate with increasing skepticism. We must
examine the concept of management and labor with new beliefs. And we
must examine the nature of organizations that demand such distinctions
with an entirely different consciousness.

It is true leadership -- leadership by everyone -- chaordic leadership,

in, up, around, and down that this world so badly needs, and industrial
age, dominator management that it so sadly gets.

But what about Eunice, the one-horned cow? A frantic thirty minutes
after shouldering the calf, I arrived, shaking, bruised and bleeding
from cuts and scratches, at the bottom of the cut bank where the calf
had tumbled in. Legs braced against the force of the rushing water, I
paused to recover breath and strength before trying to clamber out.
Suddenly, over the sound of pulse pounding in my ears, the rushing
water, shrieking wind and pelting rain, from directly overhead came a
furious, heart-stopping roar. In stark terror, I let go the calf's
front legs and fumbled for the flashlight. Another earth-shaking roar,
then another. The light came on as I swung the beam in the direction of
the sound.

As I stood eye to eye with two tons of bovine fury, the essence of
management was clear.
Exhausted, thigh deep in swirling, icy water with sixty pounds of
kicking calf draped around its neck, 175 pounds of Homo Sapiens stared
in pure panic directly up into the blood-red eyes of three quarters of
a ton of frantic mother cow convinced I was butchering her baby and a
ton of enraged bull determined to save his family. In that brief
instant, eye-to-eye with nearly two tons of bovine fury, the essence of
management was simple and clear. First: manage myself and get mind,
body, and emotions under control before they ceased to exist. Second:
manage two tons of enraged, bovine superiors who most certainly had
power over me. Third: manage my environment and find a way out of the
ravine. Fourth, and by far the least important, manage my only
subordinate, the kicking calf. And, oh, how I wished the calf knew the
theory and had managed himself, his superiors and his environment, and
not put the whole outfit into such an unholy mess in the first place.

What then happened in the middle of the night to Eunice, her calf and a
panic stricken Homo Sapiens in a ditch need not be told, for that is
not the point of the story. But for those who must find a moral in
every story it is simply this: If your keep your wits about you, you
can learn everything you need to know about leadership from a
one-horned cow.

On Chaordic Leadership
Many convictions about leadership have served me well over the years.
Although each of these few examples could benefit from pages of
explication, a few words may provide insight to chaordic leadership.
Power: True power is never used. If you use power, you never really had

Human Relations: First, last, and only principle -- when dealing with
subordinates, repeat silently to yourself, "You are as great to you as
I am to me, therefore, we are equal." When dealing with superiors,
repeat silently to yourself, "I am as great to me as you are to you,
therefore we are equal."

Criticism: Active critics are a great asset. Without the slightest

expenditure of time or effort, we have our weakness and error made
apparent and alternatives proposed. We need only listen carefully,
dismiss that which arises from ignorance, ignore that which arises from
envy or malice, and embrace that which has merit.

Compensation: Money motivates neither the best people, nor the best in
people. It can rent the body and influence the mind but it cannot touch
the heart or move the spirit; that is reserved for belief, principle,
and ethics.

Ego, Envy, Avarice, and Ambition: Four beasts that inevitably devour
their keeper. Harbor them at your peril, for although you expect to
ride on their back, you will end up in their belly.

Position: Subordinates may owe a measure of obedience by virtue of your

position, but they owe no respect save that which you earn by your
daily conduct. Without their respect, your authority is destructive.

Mistakes: Toothless little things, providing you can recognize them,

admit them, correct them, learn from them, and rise above them. If not,
they grow fangs and strike.

Accomplishment: Never confuse activity with productivity. It is not

what goes in your end of the pipe that matters, but what comes out the
other end. Everything but intense thought, judgment, and action is
infected to some degree with meaningless activity. Think! Judge! Act!
Free others to do the same!

Hiring: Never hire or promote in your own image. It is foolish to

replicate your strength. It is stupid to replicate your weakness.
Employ, trust, and reward those whose perspective, ability and judgment
are radically different from your own and recognize that it requires
uncommon humility, tolerance, and wisdom.

Creativity: The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts

into your mind, but how to get old ones out. Every mind is a building
filled with archaic furniture. Clean out a corner of your mind and
creativity will instantly fill it.

Listening: While you can learn much by listening carefully to what

people say, a great deal more is revealed by what they do not say.
Listen as carefully to silence as to sound.

Judgment: Judgment is a muscle of the mind developed by use. You lose

nothing by trusting it. If you trust it and it is bad, you will know
quickly and can improve it. If you trust it and it is consistently
good, you will succeed, and the sooner the better. If it is
consistently good and you don't trust it, you will become the saddest
of all creatures; one who could have succeeded but followed the poor
judgment of others to failure.

Leadership: Lead yourself, lead your superiors, lead your peers and
free your people to do the same. All else is trivia.