Are You Guiding Or Governing?

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I was having a leadership discussion yesterday and the dilemma came up of wanting to have organic growth, but at the same time control the organic growth with checks and balances to ensure the brand wasn’t tarnished.

It’s a discussion I’m sure many of you have had: whilst you respect your community or audience and want them to run with ideas and bring value to the table, you don’t trust them enough to give them full ownership, either because they might get it wrong, or they might not keep it up.

The reason why this discussion is important for us is because all of us are asking: how much do I govern it?

Guidance and Governance

I see two mindsets, at either end of an upside down triangle (much like this). On the left, we have guidance, which is a hands-off approach that says ‘go for it’, and at the extreme, will let anything happen. On the right, we have governance, which is a sign-off approach that says ‘hold on it’, and at the extreme, will let nothing happen.

In my head I’ve got these two terms pretty together. I know what I think they mean – something that I explained sometime ago in this post on where I see PR going this year.

For me, guidance is the new way of thinking. It says that with good leadership, I can guide people without needing to govern them. However, I’m beginning to rethink this, just a little.

You don’t need me to tell you that either mindset, at the extremes we have listed above, becomes a real problem. But in balance, each has important strengths that we need that often create the same goals. For instance:

  • Guidance creates unconferences that destroy the speaker/attendee divide and get us learning together in a de-centralised way
  • Governance creates a smooth conference feel that has many controls in preparation to deliver a powerful learning experience, in a centralised way

Or lets take Open Source Software. By definition, it is about guidance – an openly available code base that you can modify and do whatever with for free. Yet, there are some rather strict guidelines and learning curves that govern Open Source – meaning that the average person probably won’t get round to using much of it in their life.

Governance is also not a negative thing. Governance provides a safety that a guidance mindset can’t. It often provides structure that guidance can’t too – especially on a larger scale. As much as we bash schools and the education system, there is a certain problem with scalability of new learning methods.

You see where I’m going here.

Guiding and Governing

Here’s what I’m beginning to realise: there are somethings that have to be governed, as much as I want to make everything open. For instance, in church I’m always going to govern the doctrine. But I don’t govern the way that people live – I can only guide it.

If we go back to our starting example – organice growth has to come from guidance. You set a vision, you set the end goal, and then you let people move there and even beyond there. But what underpins this and maintains the ground that you have won organically is a governane mindset – setting policies, procedures, structure.

This means that we need to be guiding, and then we need to be governing.

Your Leading Thoughts

  • I think you can also say the same about innovation vs duplication, or even social vs broadcast. So, tough question, but do we err too much on the side of guidance, innovation and social without acknowledging how much broadcast, duplication and governance is really at work?

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Archived Comments

  • annholman

    Interesting post Scott and one we are thinking about at my company. We know that any where where a group of people congregate; company, institution, school, church or community, it needs governance or all hell eventually breaks lose!

    However, in business you can create ‘spaces’ where you can experiment with ‘guidance’ and where ‘govenance’ takes a back seat. We are doing this with ThinkLAB. We are literally creating the physical and virtual platforms but will gradually evolve the community that surrounds it to take the lead, providing lots of guidance and facilitation but very little governance.

    The more governance there is in your company, the more you are likely to suck the life out of it. We see this with corporate business. Your post, as you suggest, is closely related to leadership where we will rely on trust rather than control, inspire rather than target efficiency, influence rather than control, relish change rather than seek order.

    The future is about how well businesses can be creative and artistic. This will require small amounts of governance around values not rules.

    Just a thought!

  • simbeckhampson

    Top post Scott

    :-)

    @Ann – I really like your… “The future is about…”

  • / Scott Gould

    What kind of balance do you see Ann?

    Is there a rule of thumb / framework / principle that can guide us with this?

  • / Scott Gould

    Paul… any additions to it?

  • annholman

    Thanks! It will change how we do govern!

  • annholman

    Hi Scott, no I don’t see a ‘rule of thumb.’ I see it being defined individually business by business, organisation by organisation. Or, indeed, project by project. From our experience here, we have different governance and guidance depending on the project. The company has more governance as some of its imposed, whereas other stuff has little governance and we go out of our way to ensure it stays that way!

    The other thing to consider is whether, as leaders, its our job to make governance as discreet as possible even when it has to be there?

  • / Scott Gould

    Ok – I thought as much.

    What I need to think through is some kind of guide here. The whole discussion is really about restrictions.

    Governance = more restrictions
    Guidance = less restrictions

  • annholman

    Or how much freedom?

  • NC Smith

    As I am thinking about this, the bigger the issue, the more it needs to be guided rather than governed, if participants are to embrace the desired outcome. Take corporate values, for example. Legislating values like honesty, integrity, and so forth is not just futile, it’s insulting. But leaders who exude those characteristics day-in, day-out are far likelier to instill the same values in followers than any governance could. What if a corporate policy is to provide over-the-top levels of customer service? What will drive employees to provide better service, a manual that governs how they should deal with customers, or leaders that show the way and insist on adherence to their example?

    Also, remember that governance, or formal description of rules, usually carries with it formal punishment for infractions, which can breed either a) resentment if they’re not carried out uniformly (and almost no organization can enforce it’s rules uniformly) or b) excessive caution and restrictions on creativity.

    Meanwhile, if someone isn’t governing the weekly staff meeting, you’re not likely to get much out of it no matter what example leadership might set.

  • / Scott Gould

    Interesting points – mulling this over…

    :-)

  • simbeckhampson

    Hi Scott. Time is against me currently but here are my initial thoughts…
    > http://bit.ly/cmXzH4

  • http://randelldesign.com/ Randy Dunning

    “This means that we need to be guiding, and then we need to be governing.”

    Hi Scott.

    I guess I see this concept as a continuum that typically moves more in the other direction – from governance to guidance (and we may be splitting some semantic hairs).

    In my mind, a healthy progression in many scenarios (e.g. raising a family, starting a business) is to begin with governance and move toward guidance.

    For example, I am in the process of governing my older children less and guiding them more as they mature. They increasingly govern their time and resources, and I increasingly trust them to do that. But I still must call them to task from time to time and give them boundaries. Conversely, my younger children require far more governance right now – boundaries abound!

    With the development of knowledge and character, less governance is needed (in children, employees, etc). Indeed, at some point it becomes inappropriate. But early on, guidance alone is also inappropriate and can even be dangerous.

    Of course I’m referencing an ideal model. It doesn’t always flow smoothly along the continuum. As you say, balance is key.

    And I concur that the ultimate goal is to be guiding far more than governing.

    But I don’t think my thoughts really addressed your end question. So, give me your thoughts on the following statement which is based on the above philosophy: developing a solid framework requires greater governance, building on that framework requires greater guidance.

  • / Scott Gould

    I like your example of childhood – it’s very pertinent and challenges what I said about moving the other way!

    Your statement… “developing a solid framework requires greater governance, building on that framework requires greater guidance.”

    I’d totally agree with that. In fact, that’s quotable.

    I’ll be quoting you for years to come Randy!

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