Freedom and Accountability at Work


I’m a lucky guy

After a hiatus of several years, I picked up a book that I had started some time ago by Peter Koestenbaum and Peter Block called “Freedom and Accountability at Work.”

The book itself is a revelation, and I’m glad that I picked up the book after so long, and didn’t give it away. I’ll have some more to say on the book when I’ve finished reading it, and have gotten some time to digest it.

But the “lucky” part is that I visited Peter Block’s website (click here) and read a couple of his most recent papers, in the form of an interview and a speech.

They are remarkable pieces of work and will take me a good long while to digest both of them fully. Here are my first cuts, both of which are

A Time to Heal

This paper almost seems as if it were written for the Caribbean workplace. It starts in the following way:

Nursing, more than almost any other profession, defines the meaning of service. The nurse is the front line, what we might call the touch labor, of the U.S. health care system. The job represents the heart and soul of authentic health care.

Why, then, is there a shortage of nurses and why do so many nurses find the job so stressful? The crisis is not about the work itself, but how to create more fulfillment in the work. The problem is not primarily lack of skill or motivation, but the context in which the work is done.

Block goes on to address a theme that runs through his book — that employees are best related to as adults, and as equals to management. Although this path is more difficult, it is much closer to one that empowers our potential as human beings in the workplace.

Leading the Way

This excerpt was taken from his interview with How magazine.

What are the traditional leadership models that businesses have embraced?

“Leadership” is a well-developed misconception. The dominant belief is that the task of leadership is to set a vision, enroll others in it and hold people accountable through measurements and rewards. It’s a patriarchal system used to create high performance through centralization of power. Most leadership training focuses on how to be a good parent. We teach how to “develop” people, as if they were ours to develop.

We do a lot
to create the notion that bosses are responsible for their people. All that parenting has the unintended side effect of creating deep entitlement and having employees stay frozen in their own development. Most management techniques are ways of controlling people so they feel good about being controlled.

Yikes. Now that’s what I call “telling it like it is.” For me, it’s almost scary to admit that there is a lot of truth in what he’s saying, because there are many, many careers that are riding and depending on the premise that he is dismantling.

So I’m lucky to have found what Block has been thinking, and been writing about. Both papers, and his book, are leading the way to an entirely new way to relate in the workplace.

Incidentally, his newest book “The Answer to How is Yes” seems to be an exposition of the ideas presented in these 2 papers. I can’t wait to get my hands on it.