Dru Sellers

Hierachy as Freedom

362 words · 2 minute read

"Hierarchy does not, as the critics allege, make the person at the top of the pyramid more powerful. On the contrary, the first effect of hierarchical organization is to protect the subordinate against arbitrary authority from above. A scalar or hierarchical organization does this by defining a sphere within which the subordinate has authority, a sphere within which the superior cannot interfere. It protects the subordinate by making it possible for him to say, “This is my assigned job.” <cite>Peter Drucker</cite>

I like this characterization of the hierarchial organization of a company. When I was younger I often saw climbing the hierachy as a means of acquiring power and authority. I think this mental model largely stemmed from my initial experiences of management when I was younger. In my late teens, and probably my early twenties, my bosses were still independant contributors, just like me. They had more activities they had to do, and probably seemed like they had the easier tasks.

As I got older, and moved more fully into a career of software development the higher ups started to have a larger purvue of things they got to make decisions on, those decisions seemed so "cool" at the time. What I didn't really see for another decade or so was that they weren't really telling me how to do anything. There were some important decisions that had to be maintained of course, but beyond that they gave me, in hindsight, a surprising amount of latitude and support.

Now that I'm actively managing more people, I'm always asking myself, "Am I micro-managing this person?" It's only with that frame of mind that I'm finally able to see the truth in what Drucker is saying. If I'm reaching for the need to meddle in what my staff is doing and even worse, how they are doing it then I should probably take a step back and review what the job description really is.