A woman who leads her workplace away from Autonomy and into the Purple Zone will be successful.
I am going to teach you an approach to work (and success) that is different from what you will learn in college courses or at work. This approach enables you to lead the men you work with to a higher level of performance and get the credit you deserve for doing so.
Autonomy Reigns Supreme
The first thing any woman working in the male-dominated workplace needs to know is that Autonomy is the most important male trait. It drives and defines the male-dominated workplace and the Blue Zone.
Autonomy empowers men as individuals. It declares they are adults who have an inherent right to self-determination. It says they are fully empowered to do what they want, how they want, when they want. Autonomy gives men their great sense of self, their confidence and the power to stand up for themselves.
In the workplace if Autonomy if left uncontrolled it leads to chaos as all of our male colleagues do what they want, how they want, when they want. In order to control or limit men’s Autonomy requires writing and enforcing policies, rules or laws. These restrictions typically don’t sit well with men because they interpret limiting their Autonomy as meaning they are less capable. They equate it to treating them more like a child who must be told what to do and how to do it instead of a fully capable adult. So when a new restriction is put in place, expect men to rebel or ignore it.
Autonomy is also at the core of our belief in the power of the individual man to make things happen and get things done. It promotes our idea of the self-made man who overcomes all odds, obstacles and challenges to succeed. Our ultimate autonomous man needs nothing more than his belief in himself and his abilities to become a great Hero.
For thousands of years societies relied on the autonomous men who’s great achievements fill history books. Autonomy gives us our heroes, leaders, MVP’s, Alpha’s, victors, inventors, adventurers and conquerors.
It wasn’t until the advent of the industrial revolution that Complexity began to emerge and diminish the power of Autonomy. Today, Complexity has rendered Autonomy pretty much powerless. However, our Blue Zone male-dominated workplace refuses to believe it. It still turns to Autonomy and the power of the individual man for solutions and to make great things happen.
Our continued belief in the omnipotent power of Autonomy is the core source of just about every problem in our workplaces and society. It is the core problem I spent my entire career correcting.
When I began my career I was surprised at all of the chaos. All of my male colleagues were busy, off doing stuff, but I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what they were accomplishing. They were scattered about, each man in his own world, doing his own thing, his own way. There was no coordination, integration or follow-up. The result was inefficiency, chaos, stress and crisis management. Even though I asked every man to please explain how they could function this way, no one could.
They simply didn’t understand any other way of working.
What I was witnessing was too much Autonomy. Every single one of my male-dominated workplaces shared this problem, with some being far worse than others.
Most of us don’t recognize Autonomy in the male-dominated workplace because we are taught to accept it as the way the workplace should function. Many of the criticisms women face in the workplace is really about not adopting Autonomy’s belief in the power of the individual for themselves. Even though we can be heavily pressured to embrace Autonomy we never should because – Ending Autonomy is women’s greatest opportunity in the male-dominated workplace.
Identifying Autonomy at Work
To identify how Autonomy affects your workplace, examine how it completes a complex job or project. Begin by taking any task you do and thinking about what a larger job, project or system it is part of. Do you know all of the other tasks that make up the big picture and who does them? Or do you just know your task and a little about what your immediate colleagues do?
The less you know about the big picture, the deeper into the Blue Zone you and your workplace are.
In today’s workplace all tasks are complex – they require a team of people to complete. Let’s look at how we typically work.
- The big picture is broken apart and individuals are assigned a part to complete.
- Assignments are made based on roles and expertise.
- Each person is expected to have the expertise to complete their tasks on their own (Autonomously).
- Anyone who cannot complete their task autonomously may be judged as incompetent or unqualified for their job.
- There is little to no supervisor or management follow-up because everyone should know what to do.
- Meetings are used for everyone to report their progress.
- If an issue or problem arises, it is discussed in a meeting but the plan to resolve it isn’t worked out. Instead the problem is assigned to an individual to resolve and report back.
- The workplace expects that if everyone does their job and does it right, all of the individual pieces (tasks) will come together perfectly and the big picture will automatically fall back into place.
However the reality is that the pieces don’t fit back together perfectly. There are problems and conflicts. This creates crises, stress and chaos as the team tries to figure out how to fix things so the project is completed on time and to expectations.
What went wrong?
The male-dominated workplace believed too much in Autonomy.
Using Autonomy the Blue Zone workplace expects each person to apply their knowledge, judgment and experience to their task. Autonomy allows each team member to modify their task as they see fit. The way each person decides to modify their task may make it better to them (in their isolated autonomous perspective) but it may no longer be a precise fit with all the other tasks.
The gaps and misshaped pieces after all of the pieces are brought back together or as the larger task is worked results in low performance.
To fix these problems the male-dominated workplace doesn’t look at its processes or how it could have done better at coordinating tasks. It goes deeper into the Blue Zone, towards more Autonomy as it calls upon greater more powerful individual. It turns to it’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) who has the superior skills to make the crises go away.
The Blue Zone Hero
To understand how the Blue Zone workplace functions, let me walk you through a simple example I’ve experienced and corrected many times:
- Mike tasks Bob to build a wall starting on the 25th.
- Bob sends his crew to move the wall material to the job site from the material storage area.
- Bob’s crew reports back that they can’t find the material
- Bob talks to Joe who manages the material storage area. Joe says the material hasn’t been delivered and Bob needs to check with Ray who orders the material.
- Ray tells Bob that the material was ordered but Timber Suppliers hasn’t given a delivery date yet.
- Ray and Bob call Timber Suppliers and the rep says he told Dave who wrote the Purchase Order that the material had to be ordered by the 5th to arrive on time. It wasn’t ordered until the 10th.
- Ray says he didn’t know the material had to be ordered by the 5th and he ordered the material as soon as he got the Purchase Order from Dave.
- Bob calls Dave who says the material had to be approved by Tim before he could write the Purchase Order.
- Tim says the wall material was changed from what was originally specified and had to go the architect for approval. Tim says if there are issues with the architects then Bob needs to talk to Gary.
- Gary tells Bob the architects were very busy and wanted more money to expedite review of the new material. It took two weeks to get their change order approved. He doesn’t know why senior management directed the change in the wall material and Bob needs to talk to Ken to find out why.
- According to Ken, senior management is pressuring to cut costs and the change saves $15,000. He says he doesn’t attend meetings with senior management so he had no input into the decision.
It may seem like each guy is passing the buck to someone else but the real issue is that everyone is working autonomously in a complex situation. This creates a lack of accountability. Everyone did their job and no one can say they didn’t. But Complexity allows each person to point their finger(s) at someone else and say “Its not my fault.” With fingers pointing in all directions, there is either no one or everyone to blame.
The real problem is that no one was looking at and working the big picture. No one was managing Complexity. We often believe that this is a manager’s or supervisor’s job but they are often too busy with their own tasks to follow-up and coordinate work with their staff. Autonomy lets management off the hook too.
Right now this workplace has a major crisis – the wall can’t be built because there is no material. Working from the Blue Zone, it will look for a solution based in Autonomy. It will look to the power of the individual to step forward and solve this crisis.
It looks to Mike.
Mike has been through this before and knows what to do. He has an excellent relationship with another material supplier Champion Supplies and he calls in a favor. He can get the originally specified material delivered the next morning. Mike places the order. The material is delivered so Bob can build the wall.
Mike made it happen. He was decisive, confident, respected, he knows his stuff and he doesn’t let anything stand in his way. He is everything the Blue Zone values. Mike is the workplace Hero who saved yet another day!
Everyone breathes a collective sigh of relief.
But then Complexity gives a mischievous laugh as she says “Not so fast guys. I don’t care how powerful you think the Blue Zone is. Autonomy DOES NOT overpower me!”
Then to prove what a real bitch she is, Complexity unleashes her wrath of unintended consequences:
- The change back to the original material not only negates the $15,000 in savings senior management was counting on, there is an additional $8,000 fee for the expedited delivery from Champion Supplies.
- When Mike placed the order with Champion Supplies he busted the workplace’s credit limit. Now no one else can order material from them until some invoices are paid. Other projects are mad and yelling at the nice ladies in Accounts Payable. However, the ladies can’t pay Champion Supplies because they don’t have any invoices. They call up Champion Supplies who stops what they are doing to generate and email the invoices. The Accounts Payable ladies request a special check run so they can FedEx the check to Champion Supplies that afternoon. After all the stress and disruption, the Accounts Payable ladies demand to know who is buying them chocolate.
- Timber Suppliers wants a restocking fee of $10,000 for the material that is in route.
- Tim has to get a new submittal package from Champion Supplies and get it approved. Hopefully the submittal package can be approved before anyone notices the wall material was changed again and stops construction.
- Gary has to get another change order for the architects to review this submittal and they will be really mad because they rushed the review of the previous submittal and it wasn’t even used.
- Dave has to write a new Purchase Order to Champion Supplies and Ken has to explain to senior management why they won’t get their $15,000 savings. His stomach hurts from the dread of the impending management blowup when he also says there is a $10,000 restocking fee and $8,000 expedited delivery fee.
- Everyone needs a scapegoat to avoid the finger of Blame being pointed at them. Champion Supplies suggests it is all the fault of his competitor Timber Suppliers. Since Timber Suppliers is a seldom used vendor, everyone jumps on band wagon of blaming them. Senior management bans the workplace from using Timber Suppliers in the future and demands they pay the $23,000 in additional costs and refuses to pay the $10,000 restocking fee. A long legal battle starts that wastes hundreds of man-hours and thousands of dollars. Years later Timber Suppliers prevails but the project is long complete so everyone can sweep the loss under the rug and not be tainted by it.
While this is a long list of unintended, disruptive and costly consequences, there is one more. And it’s the real kicker!
As it turns out, Bob couldn’t start building the wall on the 25th anyway.
Frank wasn’t done with the concrete foundation work. Frank also had coordination problems early on and solved them autonomously. He wasn’t done dealing with his unintended consequences until the 30th and delayed Bob until the 1st. Timber Suppliers would of delivered the material on the 29th.
So, all of the crises, expense, stress and drama was for nothing.
And it all could have been prevented if Autonomy was ended.
This is why the male-dominated workplace needs women.
As women we should never go into the Blue Zone and dive into Autonomy by pulling up the walls of our cubicle and turning up the music in our headphones so we can turn a blind eye to all the problems swirling around us. If we do, we miss our calling.
The male-dominated workplace gives us the great opportunity is to end Autonomy by working with and managing Complexity. While she hates autonomous men, she likes us. Complexity is our BFF and greatest ally. She knows that when we assert our traits, we change, the male-dominated workplace.
When we put our Abstracts into Action, we have the drive and compassion to make our workplace better. When we empower our Group thinking, Multi-task Management, drive for getting work Done Well and Circular Perspective we transform the workplace so it can manage Complexity. Our Stress Endurance, Adaptability to Change, Defensive Aggression and Energy Projection give us more than enough strength to see it through.
Complexity knows the combination of our Group, Abstracts in Action, Multi-task Management, Done Well and Circular Perspective make us natural big picture managers and system thinkers. We practice these skills all the time in our personal lives as we take care of our homes and families. We just aren’t told that these traits are also very powerful in the workplace because they are contrary to the Blue Zone’s belief in Autonomy and the invincible power of the individual.
So Complexity wants our help to break the male-dominated workplace of its dependency on the Blue Zone.
Likewise the male-dominated workplace already knows that it needs to break old habits. It knows that to manage Complexity and avoid the scenarios like my example above it needs to use a systems-approach and implement Lean principles. Most of our workplaces have already tried but had limited success or failed outright, returning to how they always operated. The reason why is because they tried to implement a systems-approach while still operating in the Blue Zone where Autonomy worked against them and ultimately won out. They made the critical mistake of assuming systems are Blue.
But they aren’t.
Systems are Purple.
Many years ago Peter Senge wrote the quintessential book on systems-thinking The Fifth Discipline The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. He writes:
Systems thinking is a discipline for seeing wholes. It is a frame-work for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static snapshots.
There are two key words in this statement – “wholes” and interrelationships.” Both of these suggest female traits are necessary for systems thinking.
To be whole, requires both male and female traits.
Seeing and understanding interrelationships is the defining element of women’s traits of Group and Circular Perspective.
The bottom line is: Without female traits, we can’t develop effective systems. Instead we get a work flow.
Reading through the bullet points of my building a wall example, it seems like the tasks flow in series – when one person is done the work flows to the next person and so on. This Blue Zone thinking focuses on keeping the tasks organized, separate and distinct so each person’s Autonomy and Task Expertise are preserved. The step-by-step Linear Perspective prevents us from “working the process” so it goes faster. All we can do is stand over each person and urge them to take Tangible Action on their task now! We all know how this works because we’ve all experienced it.
To women, what is wrong is obvious. When we read through the bullet point scenario we want to shout “Work together!” Or “Communicate!” Because we have the perspective of relationships.
If we replace one man with a woman we can everything. Let’s replace Dave who writes the Purchase Order with Diane.
Diane understands her relationship with each of her male colleagues. The solid line represents her primary relationships – the men she works with directly. The dashed line represents her secondary relationships – the men she knows influence her work and who she influences. The dotted line represents her tertiary relationships – the men she is the most removed from but like her are a team member on the larger task.
Because Diane is connected to each of the men, she hears and pays attention to what is going on. She hears Ken say that the wall material got changed. She knows this will impact their work and everyone has to respond. There could be a time crunch. Her emotional radar is going off – What do we have to do?
If she is in the Blue Zone she ignores her emotional radar that is hinting there could be a big problem brewing. She knows she can pull up the walls of her cubicle and hide in Autonomy. After all, she’s not the boss; it’s not her job and not her responsibility.
But if she is in the Purple Zone, she puts her Abstracts into Action and starts talking to her male colleagues. She calls Timber Suppliers and learns the delivery timeline is long. She lets Gary know so he can rush the architects. She makes several other phone calls to help move the process along.
Diane is working the process and trying to manage the big picture but she finds it takes a lot of time to coordinate her autonomous colleagues. She knows she is working inefficiently which is against Lean principles.
She also feels like she is doing a lot of hand-holding. Her male colleagues should be working the process too. But they don’t understand the big picture so they don’t have the right sense of urgency.
Diane decides to do something bold – she is going to assert her female leadership. She calls a meeting so together they can map out the process to manage the material change. It takes only 30 minutes.
This gives everyone a new perspective.
They monitor where they are on getting the material delivered against where Frank is on finishing the foundation. Mike helps Frank with his concrete problems.
They get the change order for the architects expedited and help the architects reprioritize their work.
They talk to Timber Suppliers and find out that if they split the order into two deliveries, they will get the first delivery 5 days faster and the split won’t impact the wall construction schedule.
Bob begins the wall on the 25th as scheduled. Frank finishes his foundation work on the 26th with minimal impact on Bob. The workplace saves $15,000 and senior management is happy because the bonus pool is funded.
Once they understood the entire process, they begin thinking bigger. They don’t see each task as a stand alone activity. They think about how if “this” happens, it impacts “that.” They understand the interrelationships. They achieve systems-thinking.
Combining men’s focus on tangible activity with women’s focus on group relationships is how we create systems and work in wholeness. Our workplaces can sustain working in systems as long as there are women to keep reinforcing the connections that prevent Autonomy from returning and taking over. It takes women like Diane who speak up and say things like – “No Ray. You can’t order the material yet because Tim hasn’t approved it.” Or, “Ken, you need to run that through Gary and the architects before I can write the purchase order.”
With Diane’s continuous reinforcing, systems thinking becomes natural and the workplace operates in the Purple Zone.
It is really very simple once we empower women and their traits.
And the results are amazing. Instead of losing over $33,000 and countless hours, they saved $15,000. But that is just one problem. Imagine the compounding effect of tackling each problem this way across the entire workplace. Imagine not only all the money that can be added to the bottom line, but the reduced stress and frustration. Imagine creating and sustaining a really great workplace.
In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins talks about the “Flywheel Effect.” (pg. 164) It is the slow but steady build-up of achievements that create momentum for even more achievement.
This is what happens when we work in wholeness and in the Purple Zone.
However most workplace remain in the Blue Zone and mistakenly attribute their increasing performance to the “Flywheel Effect.” They don’t realize that what they are really experiencing is just an upward pendulum swing. This is due in part to how Jim Collins says the flywheel gets moving. “Good to great comes about by a cumulative process – step-by-step, action-by-action, decision-by-decision, turn-by-turn of the flywheel – that adds up to sustained and spectacular results.”
What Jim Collins didn’t understand is that he is describing how to create the flywheel in the Blue Zone using only male traits – and it doesn’t work. With only one half of the whole in motion, the male energy swings up but doesn’t have the balancing female energy to complete the rotation. So the pendulum swings back down in a great crash.
As it turns out his example flywheel company Circuit City, experienced a great upward pendulum swing. And it’s spectacular result was a spectacular crash.
Great rises followed by great crashes is the only way the Blue Zone achieves balance. This is the hard lesson we continue to learn, over and over again, simply because we don’t accept the value of female traits in the workplace.
The great workplaces will be the ones that fully understand how to empower female traits so they achieve wholeness and get the flywheel spinning. They will be the ones that achieve and sustain an unprecedented level of spectacular results.
For more help on creating process with your colleagues read my articles: