Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Mob Rule? At Work?

February 22nd, 2011 | Bob Rosner

Image: Bob RosnerOkay, this is yet another article about the current wave of protests in the Middle East and the implications for the rest of us (in the case of this blog, for the workplace).
A strained metaphor? Undoubtedly. Annoying? Hopefully not. Important? Well, what do you think I’m going to say after spending the past two hours working on this blog?
There is one phrase that really struck me over the past few weeks as the tumult seemed to spread from creepy dictator to creepy dictator. “No leaders.” Political parties, yes they existed. But few seemed to gain much traction over the swarm of people protesting throughout Egypt. Opposition leaders? Yes, there were multiple waves of them arriving triumphantly at Tahrir Square. Mostly, according to new reports, to a response that catapulted exactly no one into the exalted title of the opposition leader.
Overthrow an entrenched dictator without a plan? Without violence? Without the Internet? This isn’t politics, it sounds like a fantasy.
Given that most business organizations in the United States don’t believe that they can produce a widget without a strategic plan, four consultants and an executive dining room full of middle managers.
Cynical, a bit. But more true than most of us want to accept.
Which all reminds me of my first real job. It was at a restaurant cooperative in Philadelphia. There were twenty one employees with no boss. There was a boss at the very inception of the restaurant, but Marcus was a true hippie in the best sense of the word. He believed that more minds beat one mind. So his first act as boss was to make everyone the boss.
Sure there were times where consensus decision making made me want to take an ice pick to my eyeballs. But mostly it was a grand experiment in collection action. But rather than a select group of leaders, everyone took a turn at leadership when the situation favored their particular experience or expertise.
When no one is the anointed leader you can get an out-of-control mob, but you can also get a situation where leadership is assumed and exercised and handed off to the next leader.
I wasn’t in Egypt. But I was in the Eatery and I saw first hand that collective action can work.
I’ve also been an adjunct professor to MBA students, so I’ve been around people who preach the importance of short leashes. And for most of the past twenty years I’ve been arguing that leashes should be longer. But reflecting on the past few weeks and my own first job, I’m starting to wonder if leashlessness is indeed the best, and most overlooked option.
About the Author: Rob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

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