Organizational Dynamics

C o m p l e x i t y. D e c i s i o n M a k i n g. L e a d e r s h i p

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Active versus passive
organizational management

I did say about 6 months ago that I would start writing about things of interest to me. Getting these ideas out there is not as easy as I thought. I think there is a certain personality type for which the energy to share in this medium is readily available. I’ve learned over the years that I much prefer conversation as a medium for sharing. In any case…

The topic of what I refer to as “active versus passive” management comes up every once in a while for me. I don’t know that these terms are used widely in the literature in the same manner I use them, but no matter. My usage is more vernacular I suspect.

The point here is simple. Do you know someone in a leadership position who says ‘my door is always open’? And is that door open mostly because they are never there? And when they are there is the door mostly closed? This I refer to as passive management. Now being ‘passive’ in an emergent sense is ok. That’s not the point of this rant. But developing an understanding of your organization requires active management strategies. So by ‘active’ I refer to strategies for understanding the culture and context of your organization that are:

  • Both inside AND outside of the normal chain of command: While the processes and systems inside your organization expedite the flow of certain types of information they also restrict the flow of other types. We all have stories of mid-level managers that won’t take certain information to senior management because it may show them (the mid-level manager) in a bad light. Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, when asked what one piece of advice he would give aspiring CEOs replied that one should always have someone outside of the chain of command who will tell you what’s really going on.
  • Real-time: Your organization is always changing. Oh yes, I suppose in some way the annual employee survey might be able to help understand organizational context, but it will most likely be, as with many organizations, too little, too late. Sorry.
  • Authentic: This is why best practice is so dangerous in this space. Being authentic in your approach to organizational culture and context creates a high tolerance for failure. A supportive environment for leadership failure exists when employees believe that leaders are working in an authentic manner. I have bad news for leaders who think they are smarter than their employees in this regard. It is possible… but unlikely. The grind of working together day in and day out means that your true authentic self is revealed whether you like it or not. So its best to manage within those boundaries. Your ‘cred’ (with your employees) is being developed (or damaged) every second of every day.

If this piece generates any interest I will expand a bit on this. Busy day ahead.


So its taken some time (and a bit of a life changing event) for me to get up the energy to start writing some of my thoughts and ideas down on paper. For many years friends and colleagues have suffered through lunches and coffees with long winded rants about ways in which we can create awareness of the limitations of our current organizational structures and designs. We do blame a lot on individuals, but it is often the context that is set (often unwittingly by senior leaders) that drives some of the unusual things we see happening in our organizations. Continue reading