The auto pilot of the traditional management theories

de automatische piloot van het klassieke managementdenken

Many organisations depart from the rational planning & control paradigm and the metaphor of the organisation as a (military) machine. This perspective assumes a world that can be planned for and can be predicted in which the organisation must function as a well oiled machine. This is often being enforced by strong leadership and top-down steering. This paradigm is very useful in stable environments, where the playing field is known and the future to a large extent predictable – the industrial era. In the current post-industrial era, that perspective is no longer sufficient because of the ever increasing level of complexity, transparency, interconnectedness, globalisation, economic instability, climate change challenges and the pressure on companies to have a positive impact in the world. This forces organisations to focus more on learning and adaptability rather than on predicting and planning & control

Besides the strategic importance and the chances of survival of an organisation, also from the perspective of the people working in an organisation, the traditional way of organisaing does not match with the requirements of the current times. We will have to find a new and more purposeful / attention-full way of organising.

Goedhart and Van der Steen also write about this: In many organisations, but also in science, there is still a great deal of trust in rationality, materialism and in a society that can be engineered. They also notice a shift of perspectives. In the science this started with Planck’s quantum theory (“what you measure is being influenced by the measurement”). This questions the Descartian vision of an objectively measurable and predictable reality. Also Einsteins relativity theory and Lorenz’ chaostheory show that we cannot (always) understand the world through linear cause-effect logic. They perceive a similar trend in organisational theory: It appears that after the machine metaphor of rationality and predicatability there is now a growing interest for the evolving and chaotic perspective. More and more organisations are searching for processes of self organisation, self management and an appreciative mindset.

This requires another approach to leadership and management than we are used to in the traditional management theories, which builds on a dependency on powerful leaders. It requires a different perspective on leadership which aimes to make / let all employees be as strong as they can be. In this situation, not all decision making is with a central leader, so leadership can be freed up for other roles, e.g. paying attention to needs in and outside the organisation and how the organisation can respond to those needs. This has implications for the ego of more traditionally oriented leaders: leaders and managers will no longer build their identity and added value on decision making powers, but on guidance and searching. It is clear that this will not happen automatically – specifically not, since ego’s are at stake. That is why it is important to work on organisational awareness and language. It is important that an organisational discussion is started on these topics, for instance in management- and leadership development programs.


Frederic Laloux, 2016, Reinventing organizations, Lannoo Publishers

Brian Robertson, 2015, Holacracy, Henry Holt & Co.​

Goedhart, Van der Steen, 2016, Proceskunde – en pleidooi voor werken met aandacht, Kessels en Smit The Learning Company