The End of Coercive Power: Really?

In our last post, we shared the view of the Wall Street Journal that the death of management has been pronounced. According to the WSJ article, “mass collaboration” will replace the culture of bosses, managers and autocratic workplaces. (See ICM Post dated August 21, 2010.) The WSJ authors argue the time has come for mutual and enlightened self-interest to generate innovation and creativity that the bureaucracy of corporate culture can neither tolerate nor withstand.

The Future of Faith, Harvey Cox

Shortly thereafter I discovered and devoured The Future of Faith by Harvey Cox, a Harvard theologian who predicts the world wide death of religious fundamentalism.  From Cox I learned that hierarchy means “the rule of the holy”.  In other words, the autocrat, the coercive leader who stands on status and leads out of power does so according to perceived divine sanction.  In contrast, Cox argues that institutional religion is rapidly being supplanted by “liberation theology”, particularly in the “Global South”.  In cultures traditionally antagonistic to non-institutional faith such as Brazil, Indonesia, China and Sub-Saharan Africa, autonomous Christian faith (devoid of religion) is breaking out like wildfire.  In some locations, this independent and authentic faith has posed such a threat to the religious hierarchy (literally the “rule of the holy”) priests and adherents in this Age of the Spirit have been murdered. Nonetheless, despite the dangers inherent in challenging the established authority (ask Christ about that), the freedom of experiential faith liberated from creed and compliance has an appeal that can be irresistible.

Not to be left alone to struggle with these counter-cultural concepts, this week I encountered the July/August 2010 issue of the Atlantic Monthly and it’s cover story proclaiming “The End of Men”.  Citing statistics reflecting that 2010 saw the first era when women are outnumbering men in the U.S. workforce, when younger women are earning more than their male peers and when planned parenting is witnessing a two to one preference for female children over males.  Parents using in vitro fertilization are choosing X’s over Y’s when they have the choice.  All in all, the Marlboro Man is literally dying and a new collaborative culture of work, community and public policy is emerging.  This culture favors the traits women bring to leadership, commerce and politics. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development developed the Gender, Institutions and Development Database, which measures the economic and political power of women in 162 countries.  Since its inception in 2006, virtually every national economy dominated by women in positions of power has proven to be more profitable, more stable and more sustainable than those with male dominance.  75% of the jobs lost in the recent Great Recession were held by men.  60% of the new B.A. degrees awarded this year will be conferred on women.  Even in our Western culture, male dominance is rapidly declining.

The authors write:

“The postindustrial economy is indifferent to men’s size and strength. The attributes that are most valuable today—social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus—are, at a minimum, not predominantly male. In fact, the opposite may be true. Women in poor parts of India are learning English faster than men to meet the demands of new global call centers. Women own more than 40 percent of private businesses in China, where a red Ferrari is the new status symbol for female entrepreneurs. Last year, Iceland elected Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir, the world’s first openly lesbian head of state, who campaigned explicitly against the male elite she claimed had destroyed the nation’s banking system, and who vowed to end the “age of testosterone.”

What does all this “death, decline and end time” language really mean?  Are men obsolete?  Is coercive power evaporating?  Are hierarchical structures traditionally viewed as the domain of male strength and size an endangered species?  Undoubtedly not.

Instead, these undeniable trends need to be appreciated from a better perspective than our limiting dualistic and binary world view.  Why must it be either/or?  Why can’t we hold these opposing forces in a yin and yang tension that improves the outcome of both male and female traits and strengths?  Our culture, our communities and our commerce can gain a great deal by embracing female leadership traits without jettisoning those that are more male in character.

As we often say at ICM, sometimes the best technique to positively influence others in conflict can be to play an “X card in Y clothing”.  The power of that choice is beginning to display a wisdom supported by increasing quantities of data and anecdotal evidence.


2 Responses to The End of Coercive Power: Really?

  1. Tammy Lenski says:

    I love this post, Larry — such exquisite examples of the kind of simplistic, dualistic thinking you right call limiting. I am often struck, when working with a group in conflict, how frequently the thinking is dualistic and polarizing, and I find myself more and more often pausing the conversation to draw a continuum with my hands and invite everyone to think about how to populate that rich territory between my two hands. Dramatic headlines like those you’ve highlight may sell well on the newsstand, but it’s unfortunate to paint our complex, wonderful world in such terms.

  2. Larry says:

    Thank you, Tammy. You are so right! The dualism that feeds polarization gives birth to demonization. If we can attribute bad motives to those with whom we disagree, we assume positional superiority. Holding opposing ideas in tension can forge a middle ground of dialog and learning. All living beings, organisms and organizations do just that in order to continue to live and grow. Otherwise, real death and decay is inevitable.

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