13 Dec 2008

Archaic forms of organization

Posted by jofr

In the catholic church the pope is elected in the conclave by the college of cardinals, and the cardinals themselves are appointed by the pope. Sounds corrupt? It is. A bit like politics: the leader or chairman of the political party appoints assistants, substitutes and secretaries, and usually one of them becomes the next chairman later..

To become a pope is extremely difficult. Look at the picture above: every single bishop and cardinal wants to be the next pope. How is it possible that the cardinals select a pope in a secret election if everyone wants to be it himself? The German Pope Benedict XVI for example was not very popular in his former career as Joseph Alois Ratzinger among the German people, and yet he managed to become elected as the new pope. A German cardinal became pope although he was unpopular even among the Germans. How did he do this? How did the controversial George Bush manage to become president of the United States of America? How did Angela Merkel become chancellor of Germany? Because she was chairman of a large political party. But how did she get chairman at all? If you look at some presidents, chairmen of political parties or chief executive officers of companies, then sometimes you wonder how they were able to become president, chairman or CEO at all. Every leading political member of a party or manger of a company wants to become chairman or CEO. And chairmen are elected. It is a constant power struggle of everyone against everyone. How is it possible in this situation that some candidates become and stay chairman or CEO who are barely suited at all? Klaus Kleinfeld for example was CEO of Siemens for three years, although he had no charisma at all and was very unpopular even among his own employees.

Obviously it is possible to become a president, chancellor, chairman, CEO or pope even if you have not many positive characteristics (for instance if you have no charisma at all, or if you are unpopular, dumb, arrogant or selfish, etc.). Often it is not the most suitable or the most popular person who wins. Despite the fact that there are others who are better qualified and willing to perform the job, someone else gets the job. It is the one with the best connections to the former leader. Connections decide. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. If you know the current chairman, CEO or pope, and serve him well, then you chances you become one yourself are much better. The recipe is simple: serve the powerful as well as you can. Be a servant to your current chairman, but remember to detach yourself if the time is right (i.e. if the time of the chief is over) to beat your opponents. It is an archaic form of organization, related to chiefdom, monarchy, nepotism, cronyism, patronage, corruption, dictatorship and tyranny.

Klaus Kleinfeld was a loyal ‘servant’ of the former CEO Heinrich von Pierer, and Joseph Ratzinger was a loyal ‘servant’ of the former pope John Paul II. Angela Merkel was a loyal ‘servant’ of the former German chancellor Helmut Kohl. The list goes on: the CEO of Deutsche Post World Net, Frank Appel, was a loyal ‘servant’ of the former CEO Klaus Zumwinkel, the CEO of Deutsche Bank, Josef Ackermann, had a very good relationship to the former CEO Hilmar Kopper.

They all did become the leader because they had good relationships to the former leader. Sometimes even less suited personalities can win in this way and be chief or chairman for a long time (which means we get the paradox effect that someone can be elected and accepted as a chairman even if he is unpopular). This form of power transfer is found frequently if the former chief has worked well, the state of the organization is good and if there is nothing crucial to decide. Then the organization is likely to accept a leader which is similar to the one before, and archaic forms of organization seem to prevail. It is a common pattern which can be observed in politics, even today in the age of democracy. It seems like sophisticated forms of organization can fall back into chiefdom and other archaic forms of organization under certain circumstances. Or have they always been there – only hidden behind the more modern forms or organization?

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3 Responses to “Archaic forms of organization”

  1. […] Archaic forms of organization How did he do this? How did the controversial George Bush manage to become president of the United States of America? […]

  2. I think a lot can be gleaned about these paradoxical power dynamics from certain diplomacy games. One that has been popular with my friends lately is Mafia (aka Werewolf):


    What’s relevant about this game given your post is how it is can be deadly to be seen as too savvy, too informed, too much of an instigator, too popular, etc. in certain situations, even if that’s what’s good for the group.


    Rafe Furst

  3. […] They came to power by a series of accidents and lucky circumstances. I wrote earlier how losers can become leaders. In this case the lost World War and the economic depression helped a lot. Hitler became a real […]


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