Farson revisited

I was searching back through this blog this morning and stumbled on someting I wrote back in May 2004 about Richard Farson. It’s such a great insight that I’m going to shamelessly repeat it and add a new riff. It strikes a deep chord with me.

In Management of the Absurd, Farson fixes on the problem of management training. I don’t intend to dismiss training by quoting this, and I think Farson brilliantly points out a giant pitfall.

Training… leads to the development of skills and techniques. Each new technique implicitly reinvents the manager’s job by adding a new skill requirement, a new definition of the task, and a new responsibility… but because techniques don’t work well in human relations, the manager is often unable to adequately discharge these new-felt responsibilities… when people feel responsible for handling some situation in which they are, in fact, largely helpless, a dangerous combination of feelings is created: responsibility plus helplessness leads to abuse…

When teachers cannot get their students to learn… when parents cannot control their children, they usually do not become compassionate. They become abusive. The same is true for managers.

I remember reading a book last year about Facilitation. It was a thorough guide to best practice at every stage of the process, from contracting and briefing to assessment and follow through. Each time I looked at it, I felt more and more insecure about my ability to facilitate. And I am a pretty good faciliator, with enough third party endorsement to say that without sounding a narcissist. For me, the lists of competences and things to perfect served only to intimidate. They took a process that is implicit and complex and represented it as explicit and complicated. (The complex-complicated distinction is part of the subject of my essay in More Space.) Maybe that approach works for some people, but not for me.

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