Abstraction and leadership

I was at a “Process Improvement” workshop yesterday where all human work was described as “processes”, everything that was done was “value”, and time spent doing anything that didn’t add “value” was “waste”. Every piece of the discussion was abstracted and made as generic as possible. Now, the presenter, some human resources consultant, seemed to be a sharp guy. I am not going to criticize this approach directly as I don’t really have anything substantial to say. I do want to ask a few questions though.

Should an organization ever grow so large that this sort of language is necessary, or used at all? Abstraction is necessary to talk about large ideas. Abstraction in the chain of command is required to steer a big ship, such as a large corporation or especially a nation. Still, I am skeptical that this is really the way the conversation should be framed.

People respond to people close to them, people they love (care about). This circle can only grow so large before it is impossible for people to care or be affected positively in an organization. It seems to me that, to the degree that we can decentralize and empower individuals at the ground level, that is the degree we will be effective at really changing and improving the world.

In government, the equivalent would be more local and regional control, less state control, and dramatically less federal control. Sure, the next town over might do something you wouldn’t do yourself, but that’s the point. They do a hundred things differently than you would do and in the long run, it is better for them. The effect of their bad management or decisions is contained. The effect of their good management and laws is dramatically amplified because of the much tighter-knit community. This has far more potential than any good law or mandate coming from an emperor two thousand miles away or eight layers above the command chain.

I don’t know a ton about military history, but it seems to me that, though generals talk to the journalists, take the falls, and win the fame, the army rises or falls on good lieutenant commanders. The navy sinks or sails on good captains, not admirals. On a related note, this is why so much foolishness surrounds the operation of mega-churches. If any organization on earth needs to be kept relatively small and local to remain effectively, it is the church.

This all lines up with Girard’s theory than we learn only be imitating others. We acquire the desires of the leader only when the leader is a proper model. When the “vision” or “mission” or whatever you want to call it is too abstract, such that every sentence has words like “processes” and “value” in scare quotes, then the leader has ceased to be an effective model. He/she is no longer anthropological. Following the leader then is left up to the effectiveness of our imagination – which is often hit or miss.