A core benefit of operating sociocratically is that leadership – including strategic leadership – is distributed throughout a sociocratic organization. Why is this a benefit? Because when only one or a few individuals are designated as “leaders,” leadership abilities of everyone else in the organization are missed, lost, wasted.
This recent Inc.com article by Paul J. H. Schoemaker on leaders as strategic thinkers offers a ready-made framework for demonstrating strategic leadership as an outcome of sociocratic organizing. The article suggests six habits of “Adaptive strategic leaders — the kind who thrive in today’s uncertain environment,” and how those habits support a successful organization.
In the above article these habits are presented as those of an individual. This is our common cultural bias – an idea of individual “heroic” leaders. If we step outside this limiting framework, we can see how entire organizations will practice these habits of adaptive strategic leadership – as a direct outcome of operating sociocratically.
The first habit Schoemaker identifies is “Anticipate,” and he lists three actions to take that will support anticipation. These actions are built in to a sociocratic organization – “peripheral vision” is provided in multiple ways. For example the external experts in an organization’s top circle are there specifically to connect the organization with its larger contexts, providing information input and feedback. And rather than relying on one or a few individual leaders’ networks, the networks and “out of box” thinking of every member of the organization is at work to support a habit of anticipation.
Schoemaker’s second habit is “Think critically.” Rather than relying on one or a few individuals to do this, everyone in a sociocratic organization is not only encouraged towards, but responsible – by the nature of consent decision-making – for thinking critically. Challenging beliefs and mindsets and re-framing problems (and solutions) is intrinsic to sociocratic decision making processes. And sociocracy’s core value of transparency supports avoiding hypocrisy and manipulation. Objections to proposed decisions are not a problem – they are a valued asset.
“Interpret” is the article’s third habit. Schoemaker writes that “A good strategic leader holds steady, synthesizing information from many sources before developing a viewpoint.” This is exactly what a circle does in a sociocratic organization – and instead of relying on just one person to do it, all members of the circle are engaged in the process. More people seeking more patterns will uncover more patterns of useful information; assumptions are naturally questioned as proposals are created and modified.
Problems of “analysis paralysis” are raised in the fourth habit, “Decide.” Sociocratic processes are specifically designed to work with available information and arrive at “good enough” decisions, including action steps and measurement (feedback). “Perfection” is understood to be a journey, not a reachable end-point. And again, instead of imposing all this work on one individual, sociocracy applies consent and transparency to draw on the abilities of all involved.
The fifth habit offered in the article is “Align.” Here sociocracy again steps out of the box of “heroic” leadership. A circle meeting explicitly and implicitly works to fulfill Schoemaker’s three key points relative to “alignment.” And rather than resigning itself to an idea that “total consensus is rare,” sociocracy applies a rigorous yet efficient design process to achieve consent from all those directly affected by a decision. A key contributor to this outcome is awareness of – and consent to – common aims that guide design (and re-design) of decisions.
Schoemaker’s sixth and final habit is “Learn.” Rather than honest feedback becoming less and less likely as a company expands, such feedback is built into a sociocratic organization from the start and feedback mechanisms scale automatically as an organization grows. Sociocratic organizations are by design learning organizations. All feedback is valued, and “failures” are simply one form of learning opportunity. An organization designs feedback into all its decisions and actions, and can increase or decrease speed of feedback and adjustment to suit current or anticipated needs.
We can clearly see how a sociocratic organization is well-suited to live these six habits of “adaptive strategic leaders” – and how most of them are built in to such an organization. Moreover these habits are not dependent on one or a few “heroic” leaders. All members of an organization contribute to distributed yet well organized and effective leadership, including these six habits of strategic leadership.