The Future Of Management is Ancient Chinese Classics

In the book “The Future of Management” Gary Hamel told us to have innovation not just for products, services, or processes but also the management of organization.  In this present world where creativity and adaptability drive business success, the present ways of control from the top may not work any more. Let me quote from pg 254, “Yet it does herald a future in which the work of managing will be less and less performed by ‘managers’. To be sure, activities will still need to be coordinated, individual efforts aligned, objectives …. but increasing, this work will be distributed out to the periphery.”  To me, it means, in short, “Self-Management” or “Self-Directed Team”.

Dov Seidman  is explicit in his book “How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything…in Business (and in Life)” and uses the term “Self-Governance” as the highest stage of a corporate culture. Please check it out to see how to reach that stage.

I am much impressed by Vineet Nayar’s book “Employees First, Customers Second: Turning Conventional Management Upside Down” which give his personal account of how he goes about doing it  “Towards Self  Direction” (pg 164). It was a journey starting in 2005 and involving a large number of people (in tens of thousands across the Globe) and the success of HCL is a testimony that it (Self Management) is possible and it works.  Leadership by serving the employees to serve the customers better was not new too.  Jesus taught that in (Matt 23:11) But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.

There are now many books on open leadership, trust, transparency etc to move the responsibility of change and direction from one person at the top to self-directed teams in the front line (or the fringes in Hamel’s term) of delivering the value adding services to the customers. The world is too complex, changing too fast, and requires knowledge and wisdom that go way beyond the capability of a hero or superhero CEO.  The answer to sustainable growth lies in motivating and harnessing the wisdom and passion of the crowd toward an shared mission and vision and values.

This new trend or innovative concept of “self-management” is not new at all. In fact, it is very very ancient. It was the philosophy of I-Ching or “Book of Change” from the Ancient Chinese. I-Ching is about as old as the Chinese civilization of about 5000 years.  To be specific, in the very 1st hexagram  1-乾 Heaven – Create we have the advice : Ultimate – Use Nine: There are many dragons but without a head(leader) and it is good fortune (见群龙无首,吉). Dragons are the leaders. Lot of leaders together and yet there is no one particular overriding leader. In this situation, I-Ching calls it good fortune. Let me reproduce that particular part of the post here:

Ultimate – Use Nine:  There are many dragons but without a head (leader). Good fortune.   见群龙无首,

This is the ultimate stage where all the dragons are fully matured righteous men. There is no need for a leader to lead them. They all know how to live peacefully and harmoniously and happily with one another. That is the true blessings. Heaven is it! Heaven is only heaven if it is filled with righteous people. Heaven is hell if it is filled with immature and evil people.

Another interpretation is that among the 6 dragons of the six-stages, there is no one that is the leader. The moral teaching is that leadership is situational – it depends on the time and the situations.  There is no one right way of leading.

Lao Zi has the following saying on good leadership:

(See Levels of Leadership – Which Level are Yours?)

  • To lead people, walk beside them …
  • As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence.
  • The next best, the people honor and praise.
  • The next, the people fear;
  • and the next, the people hate …
  • When the best leader’s work is done the people say, “We did it ourselves!”

The Ancient Chinese has a better term for “Self-Management”. It is called “无为而治”. The literal translation is “No action yet in order”.  I would translate it as “Effortless Management” or “Managing with out stress and efforts” or “Easy Management” .  It is not that we don’t do things as many have misunderstand Lao Zi.  It is just that the things we do are easy and effortless for us because we follow the right ways (DAO).  How can we achieve that effortless management ? The books quoted above give us some answers. But the Ancient Chinese Classics have more to share with us. Trust, openness, flexibility, transparency etc are all part of the process. I-Ching tells us how to do that in various situations.

In Chinese History, the Period called the ‘Spring and Autumn’ & ‘The Warring states’ (BC 770 – 221), is the period  where most main Chinese Philosophies are developed. They were 4 main schools of thought that last to today. Each has his own way for achieving this “Effortless Management”. It is not easy for me to go through them in details. I just wish to point it out to you for you to discover more yourselves.

Chinese wisdom is not just “Sun Zi’s Art of War”.  I personally find Sun Zi’s Arts of War as incomplete. It covers competitive strategies. But business to me is a love affair with customers rather than a war with competitors. Competitors are just interfering references in the customer’s eye when she is deciding. Business main and only goal is with the customers.  See Business as War is Half the Truth. The are many other issues, more important ones than competitive strategies, such as PEOPLE, learning, knowledge, team work, to name just a few.  These answers to the future of management can actually be found in the Chinese Classics.

Back to the four main Chinese Classics Schools  (We are talking about philosophies and not the religions).

  1. The oldest school is Dao (The Way) headed by Lao Zi 老子 and Zhuang Zi 庄子. They tell people to follow the natural way or natural order and then things will be easy, effortless and automatic. Of course, we have to first find out about the Way and the How. Dao De Jing is a good source.
  2. The 2nd, but having the largest influence, is the Ru儒 School of Confucius and Mencius. They teach about being morally good and self-independence first and then with love and caring to touch and change others lives and behavior; thereby achieving effortless management since everyone can behave well by their own will. It stresses on establishing Li – good manners and protocols of treating one another. It is leadership and management by Virtue (The keys being love and respect). The teaching of Confucius is contained in Lun Yu, The Great Learning DaXueThe Doctrine of the Mean, and others. See also Learning Innovation from Confucius – The Series).
  3. The third school is Mo 墨 of Mo Zi. He stresses on “Love” and “Loving everyone regardless of status”. He is closest to the Agape Love of Christianity. Leadership and management is by love and treating everyone equally. Ru also stresses on love and kindness. But Ru believes in loving your own first and then extending outward. Mo Zi reaches out to the poor and peasants. Confucius was closer to the aristocrats. May be Mo looked at thing from the labor point of view and Confucius from the rulers point of view.
  4. The fourth school is the Legal School of Han Fei Zi 韩非子。He believes in establishing strict Laws and Severe Punishments to achieve effortless management. He believes in ruling with fear so that people will not dare to be bad.  This like the theory X type of management. This is the practice of the famous Chin Shi Wang of the Chin Dynasty.  This is also our familiar centralized bureaucratic organization.

Which of the four Schools should you follow? Which one will be the future of Management? Everyone has its ways and rules of working, even the Dao. In the spirit of I-Ching, it depends on the situation – the people, the timing, the direction, the stages of growth and the environment.

Chinese Classics are vast resources to read. May be you can follow me and learn slowly over time by reading Ancient Chinese Wisdom . Please share with me your thoughts as well.

See also Integrated View of the Wisdom of Chinese Classics – Future of Management Now

Lim Liat copyrighted 2010-2011

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