How Organizational Incompentence Happens

Dr. David Cox is Emeritus Professor of Educational Leadership (1992-2014) at Arkansas State University.  We connected with him in 2012 and spoke to one of his classes through audio hook up.  Dr. Cox is deeply interested in Edwin Friedman’s work and the connection Healing Leaders explored between Friedman’s thinking and contemporary leadership. This post, and some following, contains parts of Cox’s paper, The Edwin Friedman Model of Family Systems Thinking: Lessons for Organizational Leaders:

“When someone is overfunctioning in a system, someone else is underfunctioning. Take-over, take-charge, high-control leaders are especially vulnerable to overfunctioning. What is unintentionally triggered is slipping into a vicious cycle of learned helplessness. The leader overfunctions and the followers compensate by downshifting to a learned helplessness form of existence. The leader typically responds by ratcheting up the overfunctioning, and the followers sink even lower into learned helplessness.

A major implication of this phenomenon for leaders is recognizing that when they try to get others to be more responsible, they are actually taking on more responsibility. Their efforts, although well-intentioned, are doomed to be self-defeating. Overfunctioners tend to think they know best. Underfunctioners will be slow to claim their competence in the presence of overfunctioners. Overfunctioners cannot make others more responsible, but they can make themselves less responsible.”

Emotional maturity involves becoming and remaining aware of environments, within which we find ourselves, and where immature leadership behaviors exist.  Since it is often impossible to rapidly exit such places, one’s survival can be accomplished be elevating his or her own emotional maturity.

Peace and Courage,


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