Intellectual cowardice, bureaucracy, restructuring

Intellectual cowardice, bureaucracy, restructuring

People in management usually polarize between “what should be” and “what is“. Their position on this scale depicts very distinct types.

The “what’s possible” usually becomes a matter of opinion but -quite logically- the closer it is to “what is”, the more likely it is that the possibility may become an actuality… but: closer to whose reality…?

What we describe as intellectual cowardice is when people who know better (have the experience, have seen proof, have the intellectual capacity to recognize and embrace potentials) decide to take the comfortable position of the lowest common denominator, the “what is”, and against all they know, they don’t sway from it one inch. Their motivation is typically career related: it’s safe to be the guy who challenges potentials or the potential. Not only is this motivation not heroic, very often it is also ill-willed and cynical in that it makes it look like that the “what should be guy” doesn’t even know what’s going on; and of course nothing is farther from the truth.

This clip, depicting a hypothetical scenario of Nikola Tesla (what should be) pitching to VCs (what is), provides a great example for all this. While the clip is incredibly funny, it’s not an exaggeration and it’s a perfect snapshot of what I mean by cowardice and often even sabotage with or without arrogance as a style element. .

In highly bureaucratic organizations you can’t make a career by being the “what should be guy”; such guys typically get to play only when it’s already too late, if ever – a main reason why bureaucratic organizations have been in a state of never ending restructuring for years.

In highly entrepreneurial environments the “what should be” guys should lead. In an ideal world both the VCs and the founders are of this breed (to have a CEO and a board of this breed in public companies is almost utopia) and the way they lead is very different from how the “what is guys” manage.

Do any of the following and watch the dynamics change:

1. don’t invite “what is guys” to discussions about strategy or massive change initiatives

2. assign “what is guys” to analyst or admin positions – there is no room for them (especially for the intellectually coward among them) in the leadership domain- unless of course management has an intellectual deficit.

3. make it a rule that you’re not allowed to make statements about things everybody in the group is aware of. Some of the most basic examples the budget (e.g. we don’t have a budget for that), what day it is (e.g. we are not there yet), basic math (e.g. that’s gonna cost us), etc.);

If the previous two rules were implemented, this rule is not relevant; if not, this rule would help with the previous two, as well.

Laszlo Kovari is a writer and the founder of Prakhsis, an organizational development company that has been a pioneer in the concept of organic organizations. As a "consigliere" he has worked with founders, managers, CEOs and board members at startups, mid-sized companies and some of the Fortune 500 across North America and Europe. Laszlo is based in Prague, Czech Republic, supporting clients across Europe.

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