I ran across this quote today and it reflects something that I’ve been thinking a lot about over the past few years, namely how to encourage specific activities within communities without explicitly telling people what to do.
Control is not discipline. You do not confine people with a highway. But by making highways, you multiply the means of control. I am not saying this is the only aim of highways, but people can travel infinitely and ‘freely’ without being confined while being perfectly controlled. That is our future.
This approach is something that separates good managers, parents, and leaders from those that use more direct means of control that, interestingly, are often less effective. Giving individuals choice while making an overall desired structure more desirable than other options is one of the best skills a manager can develop – regardless of how hierarchical the overall organizational structure is. It’s similar to what I’ve often heard advised for parents – don’t ask you children open-ended questions like ‘What would you like to wear today?” because you will end up with a long debate about needing to wear long pants in the middle of winter (as an example); instead give your child the option of two or three different appropriate outfits. They get to choose, you make sure they are dressed appropriately – everyone wins with little debate.
Finding outcomes where everyone wins is the essence of community leadership and involves thinking about what makes the outcome good for everyone involved. At its core, it is simply good negotiating skills – not easy and it often takes considerable time to think through and orchestrate – but highly effective in ensuring sustainable outcomes with a lot of buy-in.