Driving blind

Here’s another good Seth Godin blog post (in its entirety):

Confusing loyalty with silence

Some organizations demand total fealty, and often that means never questioning those in authority.

Those organizations are ultimately doomed.

Respectfully challenging the status quo, combined with relentlessly iterating new ideas is the hallmark of the vibrant tribe.

I’ve worked with leaders who claim they wanted you to challenge them, but beware. While I believe many of them meant it when they said it, when they were actually challenged it was a different story and typically a career-limiting move for the challenger.

I would also add that my experience lines up with Seth’s observation. Those who demanded fealty were doomed.

This is not surprising. As I’ve mentioned before, all problems can be traced to a problem in feedback. Leaders who are not genuinely open to challenge are not open to feedback. It’s like they are driving a bus without the feedback of the seeing the road. Of course, they will eventually drive into the ditch.

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4 thoughts on “Driving blind

  1. While I think that organizations should evolve and be challenged, I’m not sure that they have to or are doomed if they are not.

    After all, shoguns, kings and priests ran civilizations for centuries and based their rule on absolute fealty. Did they all fall apart? Sure, but nothing lasts forever. Is there an inevitability to history, a drive to progress and freedom through respectful challenge? Again, I’d like there to be but I don’t know that it is necessarily so.

    I seems more likely that if progress is something we are interested in, then we have to continually step up and make it happen.

    • Wally – Notice, Seth G. says ‘respectfully’.

      I’ve always been fascinated that kings employed jesters who could criticize them. If you wanted to submit a challenge to a king, the most respectful way was to discuss it with the jester who could then work it into their routine. Jesters provided entertainment, but they also served an important feedback function for the king to get a true sense for what the people thought of him and how he appeared to the people.

      A friend of mine, who served in the Navy, said that was an important purpose of annual comedy skits their companies would do. They could blow off some steam, but he said the commanding officers were very keen on accepting the feedback given in the skits.

      Societies are often more complex than what’s captured in the history books. Not many people pay attention to the feedbacks.

      However, I would say that Seth G. very likely had in mind organizations operating in a competitive environment where people are relatively free to choose.

  2. Humor is sometimes a safe way to disagree with power.

    And yes, I agree that his point was most likely about organizations operating in a free and competitive environment. My point (if I had one) was that the world has rarely been an open and free place for competition – unless we are talking in Darwinian terms… then maybe it has always been that way.

    • The jester was usually safe because the king allowed it. Even in less free environments I believe that leaders with some longevity developed methods to get feedback and challenges (court jester just being one example) and they would use that feedback wisely.

      I see that as a key characteristic with effective organizations today — leaders that invite ways for open and honest and respectful challenges. I do believe that the strength of a value proposition can offset this for some time (successful businesses with steady profit streams are honey for bureaucratic bees), but eventually creative destruction will come knockin.

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