What “organizational” lessons could you learn from a cult? –  SCN Encourager

Okay, maybe the word “cult” is a stretch.

The word “commune” is more like it.

I’m not talking about the flower-power-hippie communes of late 1960s and early 1970s, though.

Rather, the research by sociologist Rosabeth Moss Kanter focused on various groups in the U.S. who lived in closed communities about 125 years earlier.

As a professor of business at the Harvard Business School and also the Director of the Harvard University Advanced Leadership Initiative, Dr. Kanter is an authority on organizational change, team member commitment, and culture.

It may seem odd to think a sociologist is one of the rockstar educators at the Harvard Business School.

But it proves you don’t have to be an investment banker, an corporate attorney, a well-connected lobbyist, or somebody real rich (like QB Kirk Cousins) to mingle with Harvard’s elite.

The study that put Dr. Kanter on the map was her serious deep-dive into the unique qualities of 91 “utopian communities” that each kept themselves going for more than 30 years.

Included in her research were groups like the Shakers, Oneida, and Amana.

Now a number of knuckleheads (me, for example) were under the impression Dr. Kanter zeroed in on cults.

But that’s not the case at all.

Cults have short lifespans not much longer than my New Year’s resolutions.

Cults don’t come close to having the long-term staying power of successful “communes.”

To this you might say, “So what?”

I get it.

But Dr. Kanter says “Not so fast.”

She maintains organizations of all kinds today can benefit by learning from and benchmarking themselves against the common leadership characteristics that made the 91 communes successful.

She cites these leadership practices –

a clear vision,
collaboration & teamwork,
willingness to sacrifice,
shared investment,
and belief in the cause.

To this run-down you might say, “So what?”

But Dr. Kanter says “Not so fast. There’s something else.”

And boy, it’s a biggie.

She unearthed the fact that in each of the 91 communes that survived for at least three decades, the leaders did something we all might find a bit surprising.

They consistently asked their members to strive for more, to think big, and do more.

They didn’t present a lifestyle offering a smooth downhill path and the opportunity to coast.
(Which has my vote, by the way.)

They articulated high expectations and offered the challenge to live them out.

And this was the KEY FACTOR according to Dr. Kanter.

This is a worthwhile fact to know, don’tcha think?

But still – as you’re out and about over the weekend – if you discover an organization offering a smooth downhill path and the opportunity to coast, please let me know.

I’d be a perfect fit.

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