Cancer and $5: Organizational Dynamics

Gene O’Kelly wrote a terrific book called Chasing Daylight: How My Forthcoming Death Transformed My Life. (The title says it all, doesn’t it?) It should be required reading for every executive and on-the-way-up-leader. Shortly before reading the book, someone I met recently was diagnosed with cancer. These two experiences bumped into each other and caused a spark.

It struck me how employees face all kinds of life-changing decisions like who to marry, if they should divorce, having kids, investing for retirement, health treatment options, care choices for aging parents etc. I think of the paradox of typical organizational life: one day you’re meeting with the specialist contemplating your cancer treatment options and deciding which road to take, but at work you need approval from two managers to make a $5 change to your corporate cell plan.

Jon Husband of wirearchy often describes the adult-adult dynamic that is missing (and needed) in the workplace. Somehow life has arranged itself so we govern our path – from the mundane to the significant decisions that we face – and granted we don’t always make the right choices (global warming, anyone?). But this capacity often evaporates once inside a company.

I think this has created a nasty cycle for organizations: the Pygmalion effect. With policies and practices that look more like adult-child interactions it’s no wonder that leadership, decision making and the like are suffering.

Does it have to be this way? Here’s one inspiring example from Netflix. What can you do to create a more adult-adult dynamic where you work?