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Patriarchy to Partnership

Patriarchy to Partnership

Navigating two journeys.

By Bob Anderson and Bill Adams

In the pursuit of competitive advantage most organizations are actively working to shift their cultures from Patriarchy to Partnership. This means transforming reactive, hierarchical, siloed, top-down cultures into bottom-up, engaged, adaptive, innovative, open, fast, agile, creative, lean, flat, empowering, cross-collaborative, self-managing, high-performing, and fulfilling cultures. This kind of transformation requires Creative leadership. Reactive leadership will not do.

However, research shows that most leaders are leading from a Reactive Structure of Mind. Consequently, most organizations are structured and function reactively. Furthermore, since most organizations are still led by men and since most cultures are Reactive—heavy on top-down control and bottom-up cautious complying—we tend to create cultures of Patriarchy. We need to move toward cultures of Partnership that are more diversely led and involve more people in taking responsibility for and ownership of the success of the enterprise. We need to ask everyone (customers, suppliers, employees, managers and leaders) to partner in the organization’s success.

We are so familiar with Patriarchal, top-down systems (having grown up in them) that we are blind to the ways that, as leaders, we continually “act out” that system, even while trying to change it. Our externally based mental models, identity beliefs and internal assumptions are formed in, and by, that system. We are subject to them. They are on autopilot. Thus, we do not see them, nor do we see the inconsistency between the vision of change we are leading and the way we are showing up as leaders, individually and collectively.

When we try to change the system, we run smack into ourselves. We are the primary obstacle to the very future we are committed to creating. Moreover, we seldom notice when we are in the way. If we want to transform performance, we must do most of the changing. We cannot just sponsor change or redesign systems and processes—we must redesign ourselves! We must transform our leadership from Reactive to Creative. This is a Metanoia, a fundamental shift (restructuring) of mind.

The inner game runs the outer game. Reactive Structure of Mind is a fear based, play-not-to-lose inner game. In this game, we react to the inner conflict created by a problem or threat. The explicit goal of this game is to fix or remove the problem. The implicit, and powerfully motivating goal of this game is to reduce the inner conflict (fear) that the problem is generating. Insidiously, Reactive leadership is initially self-reinforcing. It works at first. Things get better, and we feel better. However, the reaction, while aimed at fixing the problem, is actually designed to reduce the inner conflict. And, since the inner conflict is motivating the reaction, predictably the action we are taking will attenuate as soon as the inner conflict is reduced to an acceptable level.
And, since the inner conflict has its source in beliefs and assumptions designed to have us live up to cultural expectations, the direction of our reaction is to establish equilibrium with these expectation—to re-establish current reality in a way that keeps us meeting the expectations of that current reality.

Therefore, Reactive Structure of Mind is designed to maintain the current culture not to change it. It is designed to return to normal, and thus, to reestablish Patriarchy even as we try to change it. Design determines performance and Reactive Structure is designed to maintain equilibrium between our internal mental models/beliefs/assumptions (mostly unseen and externally defined) and current reality. Since, Reactive beliefs and mental models were largely forged within patriarchal systems, and because they run unseen on autopilot, driving leadership behavior that supports patriarchy, Reactive Leadership cannot-not return to the old culture. It is not designed to lead transformation. Creative level leadership is required.

The inner game of consciousness is the deep structure of performance—the unseen level that shapes not only our pattern of behavior and results, but also the very way we design work systems. When Consciousness is organized at the Reactive level, it generates Reactive leadership. Reactive leadership produces predictable patterns of performance that limit individual and collective leadership effectiveness. Reactive leadership naturally establishes patriarchal cultures and structures. This is the organization form most likely generated when the collective consciousness of an organization’s leadership is Reactive. Hence, what most needs to change, as we move from Patriarchy to Partnership, is the individual and collective consciousness (inner game, operating system) from which change is being led. As we change the system, we must change ourselves; otherwise, the change we champion will become the flavor of the month.

9.2 Two Journeys Color-01Moving from Patriarchy to Partnership requires navigating two journeys simultaneously—the system journey and the personal journey. We tend to spend most of our time on changing the system (often without a Whole Systems approach) and little on the profound personal changes required of us. We try to change culture as if it is separate from ourselves. We try to change it—not us. System change requires a transformation in consciousness within the organization’s leadership. The work required of change leaders is to discover how we personally contribute to the culture we are trying to change. When we lead change, we are the culture we are trying to change.

The shift from Patriarchy to Partnership is a move from a Reactive to a Creative mindset, culture and structure. Creative Mind is designed to create what matters most, to create the futures to which we aspire, and to get better results more consistently at a much lower energetic cost. It is required to create Partnership—the kind of lean, agile, engaged, innovative, organizations that are competitively required.


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Book Launch Webbanner22-04Excerpted from Mastering Leadership: An Integrated Framework for Breakthrough Performance and Extraordinary Business Results, by Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams (Wiley, 2015)


Bob Anderson is Chairman and Chief Development Officer and Bill Adams is CEO of The Leadership Circle and the Full Circle Group. They are coauthors of Mastering Leadership (Wiley). Visit or

Douglas Day

Author Douglas Day

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