Tuesday 1 July 2014

The Patriarchal Contract

I posted the other day (here) about the implicit contract that people sign up to when joining an organisation, and some of the implications of that.

I was basing my analysis on work by Peter Block (The Empowered Manager) which I find very interesting.

In the ComBox, Andrew Derrington pointed out that having some way to diagnose whether one was working in a patriarchal/bureaucratic culture would be helpful.  

 So here is my summary of Block's thinking on that (and he acknowledges some of his ideas particularly around the Patriarchal Contract, are developed from David McClelland's in Power - The Inner Experience, which I have yet to read).

1    The Patriarchal Contract

David McClelland
This contract assumes that the organisation or boss knows best.  Therefore obedience is at a premium, with an associated denial of self-expression.  Moreover, we are expected to make sacrifices for unnamed future rewards, and believe (or pretend to believe) that this is just.

The problems with this, in terms of sustaining an entrepreneurial culture include:

The emphasis on obedience assumes that the source of wisdom and knowledge is outside ourself.  That in turn feeds our dependency and wish for approval. It is initially a comfortable position for those at the top (they are revered) but eventually untenable (they have to decide everything, take responsibility for everything...).  Likewise it is initially comfortable for the led, as they don’t have to take responsibility, but ultimately leads to feelings of helplessness and victimhood.

The denial of self-expression leads to everyone knowing what’s wrong except the people who need to know.  Nobody will tell the boss that his idea is flawed, but they certainly tell each other.

The idea of sacrifice for unnamed future rewards leads to resentment and cynicism.  The implicit reward is often ‘if you work hard you will have a promotion/job for life.’  However no organisation can guarantee that, and as they lay people off, they violate that bargain, causing deep resentment.

The belief that these ‘rules’ are just simply reinforces a set of assumptions that together make for dependency.  Yet the evidence is mounting that participative management achieves better long term results than authority-driven cultures.

2    Myopic Self-Interest

If the basic contract is patriarchal then it is no surprise that people’s view of what is in their best interests becomes focused on pleasing those above them in the hierarchy.  

If success is defined as promotion or approval from the boss, we are immediately entering the realms of a bureaucratic culture.

To assess this in your organisation consider, is success:

  • Advancement?
  • Approval from above?
  • High salary?
  • Safety?
  • Control?
  • All of the above?

If so, that’s bureaucracy.

3    Manipulative Tactics

Another hallmark of the bureaucratic culture is the use of manipulative tactics.  That is to say, indirect and sometimes devious behaviours aiming to win us success as defined above.  Typically, that involves:

  • Manoeuvring people
  • Managing information to our own advantage
  • Making friends with the powerful or those who can do us good
  • Seeking approval of bosses
  • Being cautious of telling the truth

All of these can become habitual ways of behaving that serve neither the organisation nor the individual, and contribute to a sense of dependency.

4    Dependency

The Patriarchal Contract, the narrow definition of self-interest, and the manipulative strategies that spring from them all contribute to a dependent mentality.  People end up believing that their fate is in others’ hands, that even if they want to contribute in an entrepreneurial fashion, they can’t have an impact, that it is not safe to raise your head above the parapet, and so on.


Peter Block's book is a call to action, and a manifesto for change, beginning with each individual manager.  He makes a strong case for an entrepreneurial culture, with associated entrepreneurial values.  I will summarise that in a future post.

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