Play With Dolls, and Be a Better Leader

Eventually, organizations evolve into totally dysfunctional bureaucracies that must be ripped apart to allow for something new.

Don't just play with any dolls; play with a Russian nesting doll! Imagine you are observing a speaker standing at a podium with the five nesting dolls displayed on the podium. She picks up the smallest doll and begins: “This is you – who you are and as you are – your values, personality type, gifts, challenges, your flexibility (willingness and openness to change).” Now she takes the second smallest doll and inserts “you” in this doll. She begins again, “This is you inside of your job – what you do on a daily basis.” Quickly, she places you inside of your “job” and then sticks both of you into the middle doll. She states, “This is you, in your job, inside of the organization you work with and for. That may be your family, your employer, your church, civic club or school, etc.” She rambles on with all the possibilities, but you stop listening – because you are starting to get it and are a little overwhelmed with what you hear. Then she picks up the second to last doll on the podium and inserts the three other dolls into it. She says, “This is you, your job, your organization inside of the marketplace, community, industry, niche, etc. - where you live, work and compete,” your “life” on a daily basis. Finally, she takes the largest doll, places the other four inside and says, “This is the world today and tomorrow, the global economy, cyberspace as it is and as it will be.” You get the picture. It is simple and obvious – a great analogy. You feel enlightened and also a little stressed – you’re not sure why you’re anxious about where she’s going with the dolls in this story, but you are. The “teacher” now becomes more animated. “Each of you are inside of your own ‘set’ of dolls and whether you are ecstatic, hopeful, unsure or miserable – you now understand where you fit. You are in your COMFORT ZONE!” See also: How to Lead Change in an Organization   She then reads the following from a 4” X 6” book, titled "The Portable Do It!" by John-Roger and Peter McWilliams: “In the heating and air conditioning trade, the point on the thermostat in which neither heating nor cooling must operate – around 72 degrees – is called ‘the comfort zone.’ It’s also known as the dead zone.” Her words are now echoing off the walls as she says – “in the next few years, to have any chance of surviving, each of the five individuals/entities represented by these dolls will have to change or die.” You hear and feel the sting of her words – you have a friend who talks about the folks who are dumb, fat and happy and who will not survive in the world of tomorrow that is undergoing transformational change. You remember you and your contemporaries lamenting the loss of the good old days. Your mind flashes back to the organizational chart hanging in the hall of your office – you recently received a promotion placing you high up on the pyramid. It makes you feel good, but you, in your heart of hearts, know that what y’all have done in the past cannot be sustained in the future. Your bureaucracy is a mechanical process that stands in today and reflects positively on yesterday. It is not the living system that is a requirement to compete in the world of tomorrow. You remember your brother complaining about chest pains right before his demise. You ask yourself – is the tightness you are feeling in your chest right now coming for your head or your heart? Suddenly the speaker’s words reengage you. You wonder if she’s speaking to you or to everyone. What she said is true for you. She says, I’ll close with two quotes for your consideration:
  1. From the article "Change or Die" in the May 2005 Fast Company magazine, she reads: “What if a doctor said you had to make tough changes in the way you think and act or your time would end soon? Could you change? Here are the scientifically studied odds: nine to one. That’s nine to one against you…” That is the reality and wisdom of the future.
  2. The wisdom of the past goes back more than 500 years — ``And let it be noted that there is no more delicate matter to take in hand, nor more dangerous to conduct, nor more doubtful in its success, than to set up as the leader in the introduction of changes. For he who innovates will have for his enemies all those who are well off under the existing order of things, and only lukewarm supporters in those who might be better off under the new.'' (Niccolò Machiavelli, "The Prince")
See also: Don’t Lie to Yourself About the Future   What say you? You can change. Will you choose to do so? You now find your mind and spirit in a 1990 management class with Dr. Ed Timmons at LSU. He’s drawn a Rube Goldberg-type graphic on the board and explains that eventually organizations evolve into totally dysfunctional bureaucracies that must be “bulldozed” and cleared away to allow a new seed, a new idea to be planted and grow organically to the world, not as it was but as it will be! Class dismissed! Carpe mañana!

Mike Manes

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Mike Manes

Mike Manes was branded by Jack Burke as a “Cajun Philosopher.” He self-defines as a storyteller – “a guy with some brain tissue and much more scar tissue.” His organizational and life mantra is Carpe Mañana.


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