Like most people, I have spent the majority of my life in organizations that were designed, constructed and managed by other people. These organizations have had diverse missions and members and (at least on the surface) have all seemed very different in function.
I have been in Infantry and Special Forces units, law firms of varying sizes, and churches and civic groups of all kinds. Some of these organizations I have thought to be well managed, but most not. Most have seemed beset by a certain stodgy stasis that I would try my best to ignore as I went about whatever my business within the organization was.
Now that I have had a chance to build/manage two organizations of my own (Redding Tison & Jones Law and F3), I have nobody but myself to blame if they are poorly managed. This has led me to a study of the nature of organizations big and small to find the common characteristics of those that are successful. I’m not sure that I’m there yet (actually I’ll probably never get there), but I have made one discovery that I think is useful for F3 and my law firm.
The discovery is this. Although they may seem superficially diverse, all organizations are moving towards one end of the Lizard/Bullfrog Spectrum* or the other, and the determining factor in that movement is not how the organization was originally designed or the current intentions of its managers. The determining factor is how the organization is actually led.
The Lizard Organization gets its name from Proverbs 30:28: a lizard can be caught with the hand, yet it is found in kings’ palaces.
Although small, the lizard finds its way into the castle by speed, wile and adaptability. It consumes only what it needs and works its way through cracks too small to fill. It kills what it finds and eats what it kills. A Lizard Organization operates the same way.
By contrast, the bullfrog is ponderous. It does not work its way into castles, it sits and waits for flys. The more it eats, the bigger it gets. The bigger it gets, the more it eats. The Bullfrog Organization operates the same way.
No matter its original design, once an organization starts to slide down the spectrum away from the Lizard and toward the Bullfrog, that decline is very difficult to stop. The Bullfrog Organization’s managers can do little but maintain the lilly pad upon which it squats and hope the fly supply does not run out.
If there is going to be a change, it will require a change in leadership because I believe, it is the way the organization is led (not managed) that determines whether it operates like a Lizard or a Bullfrog.
*Full credit for this analogy goes to Davis Kuykendall, who described it to me this week.