In my wife’s family, there was one phrase that would end all discussion on any topic, “My name is Father and…” His position as father allowed him the ultimate disposition on any topic.
Now, my father-in-law usually used this phrase to end those discussions where everyone has had their say several times and nothing and no one’s thinking were being changed. There always has to be a way to end the endless Do loops that we occasionally find ourselves in.

But in organizations, this necessity becomes a liability when the position stifles aspirations, initiative, innovation, problem solving, and even compassion. I saw one of the best examples of the downside while supporting an Air Force office in the Washington, DC area. We would meet to determine the options to solve a particular problem when the Colonel would state an opinion or thought and everyone would instantly agree – it ended all further thought on the subject. I called this the Colonel Effect – but it occurs with senior executives, flag officers and business owners.
A person’s position – and its attendant responsibilities – becomes a prison – defining the boundaries of thought and consideration of the consequences of the actions taken within that position.
In short, the position becomes more important than the organization. Some call this empire building as it usually results in the position holder attempting to control more resources and people.

The person doing it thinks that they are doing good but it’s a poison being injected into the bloodstream of the organization.

Recently, there was a personal aspect to this effect when my wife was scheduled for surgery but developed bronchitis two weeks before the date. Because she had to go to a different medical office to treat the bronchitis, they had the attitude that this was a routine matter and there was no rush to cure or control the condition. So their response was slow – and the surgery had to be postponed – disrupting my wife health and schedule, plus the family and the all the personal and facilities scheduled for the surgery. The decision making process didn’t include the consequences to anyone except the immediate medical office. Their position determined their response.

Is there one particular office or position that has to do their thing and never considers the effect on other offices in your organization? The organization is held hostage just as effectively as if a masked gunman entered the premises and demanded that everyone line up against the wall. In fact, the gunman would be less intrusive because he would be dealt with very quickly, but if Purchasing has a backlog holding up your project, no one is going to rush in the SWAT team to save your project.

This is a common problem with organizations. In survey after survey, executives and business owners decried the lack of incentives for subordinates and employees to consider the organization before their positional or personal needs. The position rules.

But what’s in it for the employee? Since they were in kindergarten they have been taught over and over again that thinking of others – putting the group or organization ahead of themselves – only results in more work and others getting the credit. Why work harder for the same or less glory? Ask any high schooler what it’s like to work on a team project – yep, one or two people do the majority of the work and the others get the same grade. And we wonder why we don’t have more effective teams in the work place?

The cure for this effect is to keep people from settling into a position and homesteading – in effect, allowing them to become permanent fixtures. This can be done by routinely moving people from position to position; incentivizing organizational thinking and penalizing positional thinking. It’s also important to make it an issue that’s discussed often including challenging behavior that doesn’t promote system or organizational thinking. This requires that leaders have the courage to deal openly with the situation. Because everyone knows what happening – and they’re watching to see if leaders actions will match their words.

If you always do what you always did, you always get what you always got. – Oliver Cromwell.

A physicist by trade, author by choice, a born teacher, a retired veteran, and an adamant problem solver, Frank has helped the White House, federal agencies, military offices, historical museums, manufacturers, and over 250 technology startups get stuff done, communicate effectively, and find practical solutions that work for them. In his spare time, he makes sawdust and watches Godzilla movies.