Tag Archives: leadership

Strong Towns and a Way Forward

…a good example of how sociocracy consultants and advocates can work within an organization to incorporate sociocratic principles and practices using the language and current objectives of the organization.

What prompted me to write today was the discovery of Strong Towns, a non-profit organization devoted to local civic development.  In despair over the state of American governance, I was clicking through the far too many news sources I read every morning and saw a link to a story in Strong Towns. The organization’s methods for building strong towns are distinctively sociocratic, entirely practical, and nicely framed. No unfamiliar names or distracting variations accepted practices.

The mission of Strong Towns is to support a model of development that allows America’s cities, towns, and neighborhoods to become financially strong and resilient.

As sociocracy teaches, the methods for creating financially strong and resilient organizations are reliable and tangible means of measurement. Accurate measurements provide the feedback necessary for correcting or modifying decisions and processes.

A Failure of Democracy

Why was this so attractive to me this morning? Because I find mind-numbing the continuing drama of being unable to stop Donald Trump. By the summer of 2018, the shock that he was (sort of) elected has worn off. Unfortunately, it has been replaced with feelings of helplessness. Though Trump confirms several times a day that he is both incompetent and dangerous, this narcissistic oligarch is still in control.

Reading How Democracies Die by  Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt was helpful in understanding how Trump was the result of decades of the weakening of self-governance in all parts of our society. It revealed the process by which democracies find themselves in dictatorships and enumerated the conditions that create dictators. But Levitsky and Ziblatt didn’t have suggestions for stopping him.

Why hasn’t someone escorted Trump out of the White House into a waiting motorcade with a military escort heading for Mar a Lago never to return?

Our inability to correct the results of a manipulated election says something profound about the system of checks and balances between the branches of government. Each branch is a power-over hierarchy, a static linear top-down structure that fails completely when leadership is weak. Trump has repeatedly appointed inappropriate leaders, and then made them weaker by over-ruling them. He has been able to wreak havoc with no logical or predictable agenda.

Would Sociocracy Help?

Of course, the fundamental practices of self-organization,  the controls of consent, and feedback systems in sociocratic governance would create stronger governance, but where to start? Overthrowing a badly functioning democratic system and installing a sociocratic system would only be a very long-term answer. Teaching sociocratic principles to 326+ million people in America and developing sociocratic governance structures in 89,000+ local governments is a staggering task.

To prevent an oligarch from being elected or manipulating an election and appearing to win, what should we do? What should our mission be? Sociocracy itself is a method with principles and practices, but it doesn’t posit a strong mission. It doesn’t give us a sign that says start here. Take this approach.Strong Towns Logo

Strong Towns

What prompted me to write this post today was an organization I discovered while clicking through the far too many news sources I read every morning: Strong Towns. Their mission is practical: to build financially sustainable communities.

The mission of Strong Towns is to support a model of development that allows America’s cities, towns, and neighborhoods to become financially strong and resilient.

The Strong Towns’ Approach

Strong Towns‘ method for doing this has distinctively sociocratic characteristics.

A Strong Towns approach:

  • Relies on small, incremental investments (little bets) instead of large, transformative projects,
  • Emphasizes resiliency of result over the efficiency of execution,
  • Is designed to adapt to feedback,
  • Is inspired by bottom-up action (chaotic but smart) and not top-down systems (orderly but dumb),
  • Seeks to conduct as much of life as possible at a personal scale, and
  • Is obsessive about accounting for its revenues, expenses, assets and long-term liabilities (do the math).

All of these are good sociocratic practices: incremental changes starting from where we are, emphasis on results, attention to feedback, bottom-up action, a personal scale, and strong measurements.

Strong Towns’ Principles

Strong Towns is based on principles gleaned from scientifically conducted research. This provides a strong basis to guide and against which to measure their work process.

As advocates for a strong America, we know the following to be true:

  • Strong cities, towns, and neighborhoods cannot happen without strong citizens (people who care).
  • Local government is a platform for strong citizens to collaboratively build a prosperous place.
  • Financial solvency is a prerequisite for long-term prosperity.
  • Land is the base resource from which community prosperity is built and sustained. It must not be squandered.
  • A transportation system is a means of creating prosperity in a community, not an end unto itself.
  • Job creation and economic growth are the results of a healthy local economy, not substitutes for one.

Finding Strong Towns gave me enough hope and inspiration to begin writing again after a long break. I’m not suggesting that Strong Towns is sociocratic or that they have had any contact with sociocracy. Sociocracy is based on scientifically researched principles that are universally applicable in human organizations and Strong Towns has obviously found and applied the same ones. It is a good example of how sociocracy consultants and advocates can work within an organization to incorporate sociocratic principles and practices using the language and current objectives of the organization.

It’s a sign pointing forward—the best kind.

Sociocracy’s Achilles Heel

The Achilles Heel of sociocracy is its dependence on the willingness of people to act. How can a sociocracy be any stronger than a democracy or even a monarchy if people are not willing to stand up and say, “I object” and then take action to implement better options?

Trump, Trumpism, and Trumpist

In the winter, I promised to write more about Donald Trump as a democratic leader (already a difficult leap) and how things would differ in a government based on the Sociocratic Circle Method (SCM) of organization. A series of compare-and-contrast analyses that would illustrate the ways in which a sociocratic democracy would prevent or disable a Trumpist government.

The  24/7 television news channels have been and still are a daily deluge of perfect case studies:

  • spiteful decisions made with no regard for advisability or even workability,
  • denial of factual information,
  • disregard for advice,
  • refusal to even consider statistical analyses,
  • repeated proclamations of demonstrably untrue boasts,
  • rushing to implement policies before anyone can study their social or economic impact, and
  • preference for executive orders over a democratic process.

I could have written all day, every day for the last 10 months and not covered a fraction of these actions and decisions. Instead I have a pile of un-finished posts. Some had only a few lines before I was discouraged by my own arguments.

Ultimately, I realized all the examples came down to the same weakness. A weakness that  would be as true of sociocracy as it is of democracy.

The Achilles Heel of Freedom

The Achilles heel of a free society and a free government  is  its dependence on self-organization—the ability of citizens to act with power and make good decisions.

A free government cannot be legislated. It can’t be awarded to a society after it and its allies win a war. Laws only work if someone makes them work. This requires respect for the values of a free society.

A decade ago, one of the arguments for sociocracy  was that it was value free,  “an empty tool.” It could be used with any political philosophy, by any business venture, or in any society no matter its religious tradition. Sociocracy didn’t bring with it a bias toward any ideology. It wasn’t Christian or Marxist or Free Trade. What this value-free argument neglected to notice is that sociocracy stems from deep fundamental values that are not shared by all societies: freedom and equality.* That all people are to be respected as being of equal value and have the freedom to control their own lives. That’s why the great feedback loops that permeate sociocratic organizations ensure that any person can correct the wheel by raising an objection to a decision that doesn’t adhere to these values.

A government is nothing without the governed. Each part in a system has to have a role, or it isn’t a part of the system. Without the support of citizens,  a free government will move toward entropy and ultimately dissolution. In entropy where there is no self-organization; the  lack of a dictator becomes a liability.

Effective Objections and Consent

All the violations of good governance in Trumpism are like veneer on rotting wood. Evaluating the veneer may lead to improvement in the next layer of veneer, but the wood beneath will still be rotting. Rotting wood has no ability to act—to do its job in supporting the feeding of the tree and producing foliage.

The fundamental concern in the most unlikely election of Trump to the presidency is not the values and behavior that Trumpism condones. The most frightening and revealing fact is that so many stepped back from stopping it. Effectively, they consented when they didn’t object. They not only let it happen, they found incredible justifications for doing so. The choice to respect a political party affiliation is not a sound argument.

Why a Sociocracy Wouldn’t  Help

Every compare-and-contrast example I found to illustrate what would be different in a sociocratic government was also an example of why it could be just the same.

A sociocratic governance system is based on self-organization—the expectation of effective leadership and action on the part of all its members. That isn’t encouraged in our present political system. Money dominates as  a factor in getting elected and requires  loyalty to party and donors before ideas.

Would sociocratic elections conducted between colleagues be different? Only if the colleagues are willing to object as well as consent and make logical arguments in support of their decision.

Strong followers produce strong leaders. The meanings of “strong” include intensity, power, and the ability to engage in sound reasoning on the basis of  convincing evidence.

Pointing out fallacies, untruths, and destructive behavior are not corrective objections. They do nothing to challenge or change the system that allows the offenses. Doing one’s best even in the face of daily omnipotent and counter productive actions has the effect of consent.  Action brings hard choices and uncertainty. Lack of action has equally hard choices and more certain consequences.

Trump as President Isn’t a Fault of Democracy

Donald Trump is not a symptom of what is wrong with democracy. For those who believe democracy is synonymous with majority vote, I note that he isn’t the result of a majority vote. He lost the election by millions of votes. He was a puppet who won on a technicality cleverly created by a foreign government using US citizens as conspirators to disrupt the election process. The principals  didn’t take action to stop it. The failure to act is being revealed daily in the investigation into what actually did happen during the 2017 election. Both causes, manipulation and failure to act, were years in the making.

A strong democracy could have avoided Trumpism. It would have taken an equally strong sociocracy to avoid the same result. There is no promise that sociocratic governments would be inherently stronger. In both it depends on who is willing to commit to action — to consent as an actively supportive action, not passive acquiesence; and objections as a corrective actions, not vetoes.

Disruption, Distraction, and Disrespect

Trumpism feeds on disruption, distraction, and disrespect. It’s only purpose is to defeat whatever system is in place. Aside from the self-aggrandizing quest for more money by Trump and his wealthy supporters, many of those advocating for Trumpism in the Midwest and South believe that anything is better than what we have. If we can get rid of the current system, a new system that is fair to us will be allowed to emerge.

Does anything better ever just emerge?

No, it is created with action. Neither democrats nor sociocrats can guarantee that people will act in their own best interests, or even understand what they are.

 

I allow myself one rant: I am baffled by journalists who are still trying to attribute  Machiavellian intelligence and strategic planning to a pathological narcissist with an instinct for self-preservation who acts entirely on his own obsessive concern with winning by destroying people who “aren’t nice” to him. It is a pointless effort to hope that somewhere in Trumpism there is an intelligent plan, however subversive. It reflects the human need to find order, especially when it doesn’t obviously exist.

*The word equivalence is preferred over equal in sociocratic circles because it is more  likely to be interpreted as “equal but not identical.” The equality in sociocratic organizations is related to equality in one’s sphere of responsibility and decision-making authority. It clearly says that having equivalence as a citizen doesn’t mean I can walk into the White House sit down with the National Defense Council and raise objections. I prefer equal because the word is more familiar and I think people know that it means equal respect under the law and equal consideration in one’s social and economic life. Equal, but not identical. And free to self-determine, free of standardization.

 

Followers Make Movements

How to start a movement?

A fabulous 3-minute video by Derek Sivers on how to start a movement.

The first follower is an underestimated form of leadership in itself… The first follower is what transforms a lone nut into a leader.

The leader has to have the courage to stand alone, and then make it easy to be followed, to share openly. The leader must support the first followers as equals, not as subordinates.

Followers Make Movements

New followers emulate the followers, not the leader…. Nurture the followers because that values the movement, not the leader.

The lone nut becomes a leader because there are followers.  The followers of the followers create the movement. Leadership, in this context, is over-rated.

A movement has to be open to attract followers.

About Derek Sivers

Derek Sivers on TED
Derek Sivers on TED

Derek Sivers was a professional musician when he started selling his own CDs on his website in 1998. Friends asked if he could sell theirs, too, and he founded CD Baby. It became the largest seller of independent music on the web, with over $100M in sales for over 150,000 musician clients. In 2008, Sivers placed his company in a foundation and now lives on 5% of the sales from the company. A minimalist, Sivers thrives on having less.

Sivers also started MuckWork, where teams of efficient assistants help musicians do their “uncreative dirty work.”

A Sociocratic Movement?

I sat in on a conference call with the SociocraticConsultingGroup-en last week on forming an organization for sociocracy. I found the discussion to be about the same issues we had several years ago, when Socionet tried to form. It’s the same problem that the NVC organization has had, and that the Austin Belly dance group discussed on the [email protected] list many years ago. The problem of conflicting aims and energies between professionals and enthusiasts.

The problem appears when trying to build an organization that can’t decide if it is promoting sociocracy for all or promoting professional consultants. The energy now is largely in the consultants. This is because the people who most see the need and opportunity often are consultants already or become consultants. That’s good because they can train people who will be most likely to apply the method in their organizations.

A Peer-to-Peer Sociocratic Movement

I’ve never seen mixing of professionals and enthusiasts work in one organization to serve everyone’s needs. It can’t be built around classes, mostly because enthusiasts and sociocrats don’t want to join an organization in order to be marketed to. But it is also because professionals have different needs. They need to ask questions at a more complex level than people who are just learning about sociocracy. They need to discuss professional issues relating to the implementation in situations that they may need to discuss confidentially. They need to ask questions related to building their practices as sociocratic professionals.

The general population may want classes but they also want peer-to-peer interactions and information in a different form. Written materials and tapes. DVDs. Ideas and experiences to discuss with each other, not in teacher-student interactions. Enthusiasts will pull away from professionals and professionals pull away from them.

Ironically, the sociocratic organization has not managed to produce equality in sociocracy.

Discouraging a Sociocratic Movement

The global organization has been supremely afraid of letting the method go viral and still has not released its norms. The fear is that the method will be badly applied by anyone except certified experts and thus reflect negatively on sociocracy.

Professionals have also not encouraged a movement of enthusiasts to form. One negative reaction from professionals to people seeking information and association as other than clients is that such people are asking them to work free. That kind of attitude will dampen any movement. A movement needs the support of experts, but enthusiasts want to join an organization of equals who share information and experiences freely.

What Associations Do

Associations are usually non-profit, dedicated to charitable and public service purposes. They form around a purpose and draw members in to help them accomplish their purpose. They may maintain a speakers bureau that will speak anywhere for low or now cost. They distribute flyers to the public at no cost. Generate books and other materials that can be purchased. Members receive benefits to encourage them to further the purpose, usually a discount on publications, invitations to meetings of various kinds, and a newsletter.

Public Dissemination of Ideas

Business people and government officials have informal groups that meet for lunch and have a speaker. Sometimes the speakers receive an honorarium and sometimes only a free lunch. If the roundtable is for business people, sometimes a gift or gift certificate donated by one of the members. These are networking lunches of highly committed and ambitious people.

How many people have been prepared to speak at such a gathering about sociocracy? What resources are available to help them do so? Outlines and public speaking guides.

When Tony Robbins was beginning his career, he spoke anywhere. Other speakers would only speak to certain groups or if they were paid. Because Robbins accepted any request he spoke several times a week. He was able to hone his message and understand his audience. This is one thing that Malcolm Gladwell discusses in The Tipping Point: that success depends on the frequency of performing, speaking, running, etc., usually from a young age.

Bill Gates had access as a teenager to computers and programming. Access others didn’t have. The Beatles were performing on a circuit for years before they became famous. When Tony Robbins developed his motivational speaking skills, he was working as a janitor and , if I remember correctly, took the opportunity to discuss ideas with the executives whose office he cleaned.

Leadership

Movements also need leaders. Extroverts who love talking to people and being out front. The skills that make good politicians. I don’t think such a person has surfaced in the sociocratic community. Possibly because such a person doesn’t fit in with the global organization which is fairly rigid and closed. The new website is a huge step forward but has been years in the making. The current version has been under consideration for over a  year.

While a leader needs to understand the method, the requirement that they be certified is counter-productive and anti-movement unless the purpose is to organize certified people.

A sociocratic movement will not be successful until the needs of professionals as consultants are separated from those of enthusiasts and practitioners, and a leader emerges.

Cohousing Meal Programs and Leadership

Some successful cohousing meal programs require participation by either cooking, preparing, or cleaning once every few weeks. (No one is required to eat.) But other communities that require participation in meal support still have meals infrequently.

A successful program averages 3-4 meals a week and their success is often attributed to  organization and leadership. This statement is typical of those programs:

We have a “meals boss” role, the Scheduler. Meals usually a major reason for joining cohousing. A major difference between our community and others is the Scheduler role. We have people who don’t want to ask other people to be on a meal team, and we have people who are afraid they won’t be asked to be on a team. The scheduler assigns people to meal teams, relieving the pressure of asking others and the risk of rejection.

The meals Scheduler takes everyone’s schedule, preferences, and roles they like  (cook, assistant, clean-up), and creates the schedule for the next two months. The Scheduler has a “community scheduling time” when anyone interested can come and help with this task. If we drop the centralized planning we will lose at least one meal a week, maybe two.

It is a strategy I think a community could use to jump-start their program, and then talk about how to reduce the centralization after a year or more of successful meals. Since we have quite slowly added new households it is quite clear that our successful meals program is what has helped get more people involved in it.

From the experience of other communities, without leadership, it is probably the reason some decline and others are feeble or never got started. Especially in larger communities where members have little or no experience producing group meals for 25-30 people.

Planning, Leading, and Doing

One of the key sociocratic methods speaks to the advantages of having leaders, in this case a Scheduler or Meals Boss. Sociocracy would create a program in two parts and would never expect anything without leadership, even when one person is doing it alone.

A. POLICY & PLANNING is done with equality and collaboration. Everyone—the membership, the board, a team—sits in a circle (figuratively speaking) with equal authority and respect to decide what they want/need, what it will require, how they will pay for it, and who will do what. They decide who will lead.

This process would usually include:

  1. scheduling an initial ideas-generating meeting,
  2. assigning the writing (or rewriting) of a proposal for a policy or plan by a person or team, done outside the meeting,
  3. holding another meeting to discuss, amend, and adopt the proposal by consensus, and
  4. electing a Leader.

Steps 2 and 3 would be repeated as necessary until a proposal is accepted.

B. OPERATIONS. Implementing the policy and plans. This is usually done fairly autocratically by a leader and people with clear roles. Effective and productive execution needs a leader who can say, “The buck stops here,” a person who is has the authority to make decisions. A person who reports back on whether something works or not.

Leadership might be a shared responsibility between two people but that is sometimes confusing for other people to sort out and it makes communications more difficult. Too many cooks spoil the soup.

Not choosing a leader is often a failure on the part of the membership, board, or team to accept responsibility for making a decision and/or develop and support leaders once chosen.

The operations leader, the doing leader, makes decisions and acts within approved policies and plans. The leader is in charge because everyone decided they were the best available person for the job. Grousing about the Leader will get you nowhere and action will be hit and miss. Supporting the leader is essential or effectiveness. Otherwise productivity will decline.

If a decision comes up that hasn’t been answered by the circle, the leader makes that decision on the spot and “argues about it later.” A special meeting can be called to address the decision or it can wait until the next scheduled meeting. But life can go on because the leader has the authority to make decisions in the moment.

If you think you don’t need policies and leaders, read “The Tyranny of Structurelessness” by Jo Freeman.

(I realize I’ve posted the “Tyranny of Structurelessness” before but it truly is a wonderful analysis of what “really” happens in leaderless groups — it becomes personality driven or ineffective.)

If you do implement a leadership program in a meals program in cohousing or other community, please let me know how it goes.

What Is Power?

The purpose of leadership and decision-making structures in sociocracy is to build the maximum power for everyone. And to balance that power with harmony and fairness. It is the responsibility of each person in a sociocratic organization to develop their own power and to use it to optimize the work of the organization.

In physics, power is the rate at which work is performed or energy converted.

As people, we have personal power, the ability to accomplish tasks and achieve goals; power with, the ability to engage with others to accomplish tasks and achieve goals; and power over, the ability to control others to accomplish tasks and achieve goals. Without power none of us would be able to function in any area of our lives. The acquisition of power is necessary if we are to live as independent persons, as cooperative persons, and as leaders.

If we negate power or reject it, we have nothing. In government, businesses, organizations, and social groups the task is to develop and use power to improve and equalize our conditions of  living — not to pretend it doesn’t exist, except as a criminal activity.

Democracy holds the same values, but sociocracy has the methods and structures to make power work for the benefit of everyone equally.