My Journey to Self Organizing Leadership

Here is some background on my journey into to learning to live and work in organizations as if they are living systems.

In my DuPont career, I learned an immense amount about myself, the people with whom I worked with and about how organizations worked or not. I also had many great opportunities to learn from top scientists and inventors. I learned from people outside DuPont who opened up windows to new ways of thinking and being. I was always learning from my first 14 years as a Research Chemist, making discoveries for 40 US patents, to 2 years in sales support and development, to 3 years in business development, to 17 years in manufacturing and plant management.

All this time, I was watching, listening, and learning about people and why things happened like they did. I also read and studied the traditional organizational development literature as well as expanding into new ideas like chaos and complexity theories. I had the privilege of working with people like Meg Wheatley, Fritjof Capra, Tony Blake, and Tim Dalmau. Always learning, watching, listening, and testing ideas against my experience of what seemed to work best to generate the best results for both the people and the businesses. When something worked, I followed the lead; if something didn’t work, I abandoned it.

Being introduced to and learning about the work of the British philosopher, John Bennett, in 1984 was critical. Through Tony Blake, I learned about systematics and the importance of and significance of number.1 My introduction to the ideas of chaos theory in 1992 was another critical step in my adventures.2

All that I’d learned in my traditional management training courses taught me the practical aspects of managing, but didn’t feel right in how it related to people. There was a lot that was forced and coercive. But, I learned to manage this way and was good at it.

My approach was tough, top-down and looked at the organization from a mechanical perspective and the people as parts of the machine to be pushed and manipulated so the desired results, prescribed by those at the top, could be achieved. It was push, push, push, drive, drive, drive. Over time, the more that I worked this way, the more unhappy with myself and the way I was treating people I became.

A new window opened up as I learned more about systematics, chaos and complexity.

The thinking I was developing and beginning to use was much more effective and felt a whole lot better. This opened up the highly successful work I was able to do with the people of the people in the DuPont Plants in Niagara Falls, New York and Belle, West Virginia, and with the people living in our neighboring communities.



1 Bennett, John G. (1977). Deeper Man. Edited by Anthony Blake. Charles Town, WV. Claymont Communications.
2 Wheatley, Margaret J. (1992). Leadership and the New Science. San Francisco, Barrett-Koehler Publishers.

About Richard N. Knowles

© Richard N. Knowles and Safety Sage Blog, 2014. You may use this article on your blog, website or in your newsletter or magazine, provided that full and clear credit is given to author, Richard N Knowles, Ph.D of Safety Excellence for Business with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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