I was at a seminar a long time ago, and the presenter, who was a jerk but had a good sense of humor, was trying to help a young man struggling to find himself. "Let me ask you something ... do you have parents?" he asked. A bit stunned, the young man replied "Um, yeah ... why?" "I'm not surprised," he quipped, "... you show all the symptoms."
I know it's out of fashion to talk about the past, especially that thorny time called childhood. But it lives on in us all the same, and it's where we learned one of our first lessons about business ... the realities and challenges of the org chart.
And every employee in every business and organization everywhere, including you and me and the President of the United States, has been confused ever since. We have very few clues and even less experience of what healthy authority is - and that's having one or being one.
Most people sidestep these dynamics, pretending they're not a problem or covering them over with happy-talk. But the leaders who take up the challenge to face into them, personally, are opening themselves up to something so much more. I was having dinner with a business owner recently who's clearly up for the challenge. He said, "Jonathan, I just woke up one morning and realized that my business was a reflection of me ... all my issues were right there when I was ready to look. And not dealing with them wasn't just holding the business back, but I was actually hurting people. I was making the lives of the 40 great people who work for me, not to mention my own, miserable."
By naming the power dynamics as they are, without rose-colored glasses, you set the conditions for building a great team.
There's an opportunity for professional growth, as a leader and as a human being, that being at 'the top' gives you. Which is why I'd caution anyone against reinventing or 'reimagining' their org chart or creating some kind of supposedly flat organizational structure (or doing away with the org chart entirely) without taking another look.
Used the right way, the org chart is not a tool of 'command and control.' It's a management tool to flush out everyone's issues around command and control. Getting these issues out in the open is the critical first step to stopping the toxic effect they are having on your company culture today. That some people abuse positions of power, or are not good at mentoring, or have resistance to being accountable to a manager aren't reasons to not have a hierarchy ... they're the very reasons to have one!
A well-designed 'traditional' org chart gives you information you can't get through any other source. By naming the power dynamics as they are, without rose-colored glasses, you set the conditions for building a great team. It gives each person, including you, a clear picture of (1) where they are, (2) what they need to do to grow, and (3) whether the business is the right place for them to do that.
And getting real with where authority and responsibility is (or should be) in your organization won't just impact your employees, it will reach your customers too. It's part of the 'deep story' your ideal customers are listening for, which is fundamentally about trust. "Will I really get what I'm paying for?"
Don't underestimate the power of the org chart to help you deliver on all these levels. It has the power to transform everyone on it. Especially you.