Soul of the Work #15: Power, Force, and Bureaucracy

February 4, 2016

in Recent News, Soul of the Work

by Ed Gurowitz

You may or may not be familiar with the new organizational paradigm called Holacracy, which MKP USA has adopted as a governance model. Holacracy formally redistributes authority, structures the organization in a new way to define people’s roles and accountabilities, provides a unique decision-making process for updating those roles and their areas of authority and a meeting process for keeping teams in sync and getting work done together.

As I’ve learned more about and started to apply the principles of holacracy, two things have struck me. First, my deeply rooted (and mostly unconscious) reliance on force and authority to get things done and second a Shadow, that I don’t think is unique to me, about organizations and bureaucracy.

Charles Reich, in his book Power and the Law says:

(Power) means to me pretty much the same thing as freedom.  Power is a thing that everybody wants the most that they can possibly have of.  That is, skiing is power, sex appeal is power, the ability to make yourself heard by your congressman is power.  Anything that comes out of you and goes out into the world is power and in addition to that, the ability to be open, to appreciate, to receive love, to respond to others, to listen to music, to understand literature, all of that is power.

By “power” I mean human faculties exercised to the largest possible degree.  So in a way, in a large sense, by power I mean individual intelligence.  Now when you reach out to another person through the energy or creativity that is in you and that other person responds, you are exercising power.  When you make somebody else do something against their will, to me that is not power at all, that is force, and force to me is the negation of power. (emphasis added)

In my experience of working in organizations, mostly things get done through the exercise of force rather than power, though the word force isn’t used – it’s referred to as “authority.” Further, authority is treated as a scarce commodity – you have to earn it, it can be taken away, it’s conferred on you from higher authority, and you have to guard it against encroachments by others. In my judgment, that system is the source of bureaucracy.

Because bureaucracy is rooted in authority (force), it’s a system that plays to our deepest Shadow fears – I’m not good enough, I need external validation, I could lose my “power” at any time, etc., and so we have an ingrained distrust of organizations and a fear of bureaucracy. At its heart, bureaucracy is a system designed to perpetuate itself. Werner Erhard once defined evil as what happens when any system is more committed to its own survival than it is to aliveness, and for me that pretty well sums up bureaucracy.

Holacracy, on the other hand, is a system designed to maximize the initiative and input of each of its members. Holacracy has specific elected roles which have very specific tasks and domains to structure the distribution of power to prevent one role from being dominant. While it’s true that a person who is designated in a certain role (the “lead link”) has the final authority to make decisions for the circle where his role resides, holacracy requires each circle have a “rep link” to coordinate with other circles who are impacted by the action, and a process to make sure that those impacted by decisions are consulted. Further, any member of a circle can raise “tensions” or “objections” that must be resolved, so everyone has a voice.

In MKP, we say that every man’s voice counts and every man can ask for what he needs. No one is bound or constrained by their position in a hierarchy, and transparency is one of our strongest values. As a membership organization, each member’s voice is vital to MKP’s thriving organizationally, and living our mission. For this reason, it seems critical to me that each man raise his hand and be a member – so that every voice is heard.



Ed G.
Ed G.

Till next time, Aho!
Out with Gratitude, Ed Gurowitz



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The ManKind Project is a global nonprofit [501 (c)(3)] charitable organization that conducts challenging and highly rewarding programs for men at every stage of life. The ManKind Project supports a global network of peer-facilitated men's groups where men mentor men through the passages of their lives. The ManKind Project empowers men to missions of service, supporting men to make a difference in the lives of men, women, and children around the world. We help men through any transition, men at all levels of success, men facing almost any challenge. Our flagship training, described by many as the most powerful men's training available, is the New Warrior Training Adventure. The ManKind Project (MKP) is not affiliated with any religious practice or political party. We strive to be increasingly inclusive and culturally aware.