Zeus Organizations: Centralized Power

In our June Newsletter I introduced the work that Bernie Neville and I did on the Greek gods as archetypes for understanding the unconscious patterns of behavior that go on in organizations.

Over the coming months we will examine some of these gods and goddesses in more detail, as a window on different organizations that you might know, work in, or recognize.

We will start with Zeus as the father of the divine family and the personification of power. He represents patriarchy, and does not answer to anyone.

Examining the Zeus archetype in organizations seems to come down to the examination of the personality of the chief executive and how he (almost invariably he) operates. This is the nature of the Zeus organization, where the “boss” is everywhere present and his power is effectively absolute. He surrounds himself with executives whose status comes from their closeness to him.

There are lots of benefits of being part of a Zeus organization, as long as you know how to carry out instructions and avoid the boss’s wrath. If you like having a strong leader, if you like decisive actions, if you are impatient with ethical subtleties, if you like to respected for the power you share in, you may work very well in a Zeus organization. Zeus organizations can be very efficient in producing goods and services, and at handling crisis situations.

One of the biggest downsides of a Zeus organization is the manner in which information is handled. The omnipotence and capriciousness of Zeus combine to make it unsafe for subordinates to provide Zeus with bad news, especially if is about something for which he has a positive disposition.

These organizations tend to be characterized by ground rules such as,

  • Maximize winning and minimize loosing
  • Minimize expressing negative feelings
  • Be rational
  • Avoid confrontation
  • Define the task unilaterally and have others agree with it

The gods however do not act in isolation, and other gods often accompany Zeus organizations. For example, they are sometimes supported by the power that comes from charisma – Dionysos, and Apollo moderates the chief executive’s unpredictability with rational power structures. There are organizations where we can recognize Zeus patterns very clearly – military type organizations, media and publishing empires.

Tim Dalmau

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