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What Can We Learn from Chief Justice Roberts?

Real business is messy, full of conflicting interests and powerful adversaries. We saw such dynamics playing out on the national stage over the healthcare issue. If we are honest with ourselves and take the time to reflect on what’s going on inside our own organizations, the same social dynamics dominate our decisions, relationships and, eventually, competiveness. I often hear people complain about the lack of leadership or empowerment from their bosses but rarely reflect on themselves. In the supreme-court decision on the Affordable Healthcare Act (Obama Care), chief justice John Roberts demonstrated a masterful skill how to harness complex political dynamics into creative outcomes, essentially redirecting the American political discourse and public opinion back to the core issue of balancing healthcare with other social priorities instead of political strives over the simplistic and false notions of individual choice vs. universal right (see my separate blog A Masterf Stroke Earns America a Second Chance). How did he manage to pull it off? In TU terms, he reframed and repositioned the healthcare issue from field 1 (universal right) and 2 (individual choice) to field 3 (collective and negotiated agreement). I have found in my own experience that every effective business decision follows the same pattern:


(1)   There is a crisis of continuing the status quo (e.g. the current department resource level is insufficient to cope with increased workload yet there is a headcount freeze due to overall economic conditions of the company and the market);

(2)   There is a sharp division of opinions with regard to what corrective actions could be taken to overcome or at least cope with the crisis (e.g., closer monitoring of employee time management vs. better customer relationship and workflow management to eliminate and reduce non-value added activities);

(3)   The existing manager (s) become indecisive and paralyzed by the different options to act while the business deteriorates quickly (e.g., customer complains rises, key new product launches are delayed)

(4)   Someone (internal or external) offers a new organization plan in order to tap into thus far hidden or under utilized energies (e.g., decentralizing certain managerial controls so that employees become more motivated and self-accountable; better planning and forecasting increases the economy of scale of certain routine activities)

(5)   Out of desperation (most often) or wisdom (rarer), the existing manager (s) adopt or were instructed to adopt the new plan

(6)   The new plan fails and the manager (s) blame the plan, not themselves, for its failure

(7)   Steps 4-6 repeats for a few times

(8)   The manager (s) are replaced and a new management team is put in charge with a slightly modified but essentially the same plan

(9)   Steps 6-8 repeats until the modified plan succeeds, depending to a large degree the skills of the new manager (s)


If you were the new manager promoted and/or parachuted to the situation, how would you go about changing the fate of the organization and yourself from that of your predecessor? I think that’s where we could learn a great deal from our chief justice, John Roberts. Here is a starting list, please pitch in and add or modify it:


(1)   Do NOT expect senior management understand the reasons why previous management has failed and support/behave differently from before. The chief justice did not have such luxury from either political party, the President or his fellow justices;

(2)   DO try to see the situation yourself in a new light different from both your predecessor and the senior management or you would likely suffer the same fate! The chief justice did exactly that, independently. Here the presencing community has a head start: TU can be a powerful lenses and guide of where new energy or next innovation could be found. Think Big!

(3)   Do NOT try to make a clean break from the past too soon for human culture only shifts slowly like super oil tankers do. The chief justice did not try to rewrite the constitution or take over the legislation himself. He simply re-directed it by introducing a new way to frame the issues. Start small where it counts!

(4)   DO have a clear vision of the final state in mind and shift the organizational dynamics ever more slightly in its favor. While it’s impossible to be certain of chief justice’s position on healthcare, it would make his actions even more super human unless we assume that the chief justice has a vision of the future different from both parties and his colleagues. Timing and tactics could be negotiated but not the vision and direction. Once again, the presencing community has a head start. If you have gone through the bottom of U authentically, you would know what kind of future lying ahead for humanity on planet Earth. For a more in-depth exploration of the scenary at the bottom of U, I recommend a newly published book by Carter Phipps: Evolutionaries

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