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Can Emotional Intelligence Be Legislated?

June 1, 2015

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos was recently in the news after offering a severance plan to employees who did not want to embrace his company’s reorganization to Holacracy®.  Other evangelists of Holacracy are Ev Williams, co-founder of Twitter and Medium, and David Allen, founder of GTD. Holacracy, as summarized on its website, is “a new way of running an organization that removes power from a management hierarchy and distributes it across clear roles, which can then be executed autonomously, without a micromanaging boss.” In this way, office politics are made obsolete by replacing job titles with “roles”. All roles and functions are governed by the rules in the Holacracy constitution with the goal of operating a transparent, self-managing and self-organizing company.

According to Deborah Ancona, a professor of management and organizational studies at MIT, flat hierarchies with distributed leadership require increased transparency about how decisions are made and employees, who might have newly acquired decision-making authority, to have a more strategic mindset.

Williams has discussed building Medium as a “mindful” company using Holacracy, emphasizing the importance of Holacracy as a ”tension processing system” that empowers people to express ideas, concerns, or different perspectives for the benefit of the organization, but not, as Brian Robertson (founder of HolacracyOne & pioneer of Holacracy) states, “for their own personal benefit.” If workers are less concerned about “getting ahead,” does Holacracy encourage workers to act in more emotionally intelligent ways, such as listening attentively without judgment and being empathetic, rather than behave in, as Adam Pisoni suggests, dysfunctional, self-serving, and manipulative ways?

Patricia Sun, an ethicist and frequent speaker on interpersonal communication, believes that we are in the midst of an organizational evolution that began at the turn of this millennium. In 2000 she observed, “Something is happening now.  Change is not just something fearful, but a process is happening and things are progressing.  Rather than fearing disruption, we need to join the change in a way that allows things to be more supportive, and healthier for one another.

“We need that thoughtfulness, that empathy, that slowing down about needing to win everything and to get everything.  It is a kind of paradox that when you have empathy, and learn there is more going on, you actually have more ability, in a matter-of-fact straightforward way, to say the truth.

“You don’t have to battle.   You don’t have to polarize against someone.  You don’t have to make someone the enemy.  You just say, ‘On this issue I’d like this, on that issue I’d like that.’  There can be empathy and respect for the other person’s difficulties, point of view, or inability to provide what you need – whatever it may be.  But at the same time, you respect yourself, you respect them, you say what’s true and see what you get.  It’s called following the Tao, not being overly controlling.

“This is the hallmark of the evolutionary leap.  It will affect business, it will affect politics, it will affect government – it will affect all human social organizations.  Instead of being based on hierarchies and control and labels and titles, it will be based on empathy and self-correction through learning – constant, ongoing self-correction.”

Is Holacracy evidence of this evolution, an business operating system that creates a culture for workers to be more self-aware, mindful, and fully aligned with their organization’s mission?

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