Are You an Organizational Insider or Outsider?

insider outsider 3Insider or Outsider: Which One Are You?

       Over the past year or so I have been an avid reader of the business section of The New York Times. Each week they conduct an interview with a C.E.O. and, invariably, it is about their leadership style and the lessons they have learned. A dominant learning in these interviews was realizing the importance of getting input — unfettered input — from customers as well as employees. And getting such unfettered input means leaders have to LISTEN, generously and graciously hear what is being said.

Few of us would deny that this is vitally important in today’s organizations. For in order to improve what an organization does, the leader needs to know what’s going on and discern what needs to be changed and improved.

In Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s new memoir, “A Fighting Chance,” and I came across something that got me concerned about whether or not a boss can really get unfettered input in the present culture of many of our major institutions – including the police. Warren relates getting a word of caution from Larry Summers, one of our government’s top economic advisors.

Warren was talking to Summers about our nation’s need to level the economic playing field so that Main Street doesn’t always come in second to Wall Street. The failure so far to do this, she said, was our biggest economic failure. In response, Summers gave her some advice about insiders and outsiders.

“Outsiders can say whatever they want. But people on the inside don’t listen to them. Insiders, however, get lots of access and a chance to push their ideas. People – powerful people – listen to what they have to say. But insiders also understand one unbreakable rule: They don’t criticize other insiders.”

This got me thinking about my years in government. Of, course, I was an insider, or was I? Now that I have retired from policing and taken on the task of writing about things police need to do to improve, I have a sense I have become an outsider.

And more importantly, does giving your boss input on what needs fixing make you a discontent – an outsider? This disturbs me. In our organizations today, does working to improve and fix things mean you are not going along with the game and, therefore, have become a malcontent — an outsider?

How does a progressive leader operate in a climate in which he or she absolutely needs unfettered input in order to succeed, but is hampered by an organizational culture which dissuades it — calls any criticism an unbreakable rule?

In policing, as in many organizations, there are insiders and outsiders. In police work it’s a little different, being an outsider is not only dangerous to one’s career, but also can compromise your safety (when you need a help on a hot call, maybe no one will show up?). It is something that most every woman and person of color within the police service knows.

If it is true, as Summers says, that the opinion of outsiders is irrelevant, then there is little or no possibility for any significant change to be undertaken. Because in order to improve things, those who have the power to make changes need to know what needs fixing and most always that comes from the rank and file. If a worker tells a boss about what needs fixing and the boss considers the suggestion to be a criticism, we’re all in big trouble.

What do you think? How unfettered is input in your organization? Is input considered criticism? Does giving input define a person in your organization as an outsider and, therefore, never to be listened to by those who have the power to change or improve things?

 

 

4 Comments

  1. It is not so black and white : outsiders can be influential if they are seen to have deep, and not superficial, knowledge of the department, while insiders can be effective in bringing about change if they do not seem to paint the unchanged era as the fault of its leadership, and not the environment and the culture.

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    1. The problem is that even if outsiders have a deep knowledge a police department, unless they have benen a cop, they will not be listened to by the cops.

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  2. It is a well established fact that overhelmingly, the managers, CEOs, and top government officials don’t listen to the workers aand treat the workers like outsiders. These high ranking people always use the same remarks over and over again: “I am the boss”, “Unless you are in my shoes, you don’t have any idea of what I go through and deal with”, ” I make the big decisions which is why I get paid the big bucks” (yeah right, bosses make bad decisions and are never held accountable and get kick up stairs), etc.

    Any input that is different from the boss or the boss doesn’t like is consider criticism and the person who offers input is consider an outsider. As Edward Denming pointed out in his books, you knock down the people’s creativity, their input, and their enthuaism too much, they become nothing but robots and only care about doing enough work and then get out of the workplace ASAP at the end of the day.

    Doesn’t matter if you are a officer or a retire cop, you have an outsider when you open your mouth about what is wrong with your own profession. Of course, the general population will hate you considering the fact that you are speaking out when you were retired but had no guts to do it when you were a part of the organization and a high ranking person in that organization that had the power to make changes.

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    1. I am convinced that there is a counter-stream out there in the world of work which stresses that which I write about. People matter. Especially those whom we find ourselves leading. If you look at my career, I didn’t wait until I retired to “spout off” and identify the areas in which we needed to improve our services — and, I guess, that made me an outsider even when I thought I was an insider!

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