Ari on Business

Anarcho-Capitalism: Framed in Free Choice

Excerpted from Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading, Part 2: A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Being a Better Leader

It’s an interesting construct, one that seems like it should be a no-brainer, but I think is actually oddly alien to the way most of us are raised, and certainly the way most workplaces work; to make anarcho-capitalism successful requires something of a (hopefully) bloodless coup inside most of our brains. Because although almost all the buzzwords in the political world are all about this being a free country, strangely, most all of the corporate world is used to operating as if free will was a concept that somehow was left at home when one heads in to work. Bosses, in the old school at least, generally operate in the belief that they can order others around. As the late Gustav Landauer wrote a hundred years or so ago, “ … there can be only one monarch: the inner being of each individual. If our situation is to improve, it is this monarch who must claim his rule and point us in the right direction.”

That doesn’t mean everyone’s going to just do whatever they want, whenever they want. There are consequences for all of our actions and we each own those too, just as we do our freely made decisions. Remember, we’re talking anarcho-capitalism here, not complete chaos—there are systems and structures that we’ve all chosen to be accountable to. But with that little bit of clarification in hand, I’ll say straightforwardly that, in our ideal world at least, our work is really never about giving orders. The idea, instead, is to actually be asking, explaining “why,” laying out expectations in advance, being clear about consequences before they come due, and allowing for dialogue about it all whenever possible. Don’t get me wrong—the work still has to get done and leaders still have to lead; it’s just that we understand that those who follow do so by choice, not because they’re forced, and the truth is that most anyone can step up to lead when they need or want to.

I’ll forecast that most humans will feel freer and more fulfilled if all they were to do was to actively decide to decide; whether we acknowledge it or not, we’re each ACTIVELY—if not always mindfully—making lots of choices. We decide whether we’re going to move quickly or not; to be in a good mood or bad; to smile or look sullen; to stop and pick up paper on the street or simply walk past it as we’ve done two thousand times before. A huge part of our training work here is, hence, to help everyone who comes to work with us become aware of those choices. When we do that well, there’s not a lot of room left for victims. If someone opts not to pursue positive outcomes—even after being regularly encouraged, respected and rewarded for going after what they believe to be right—there’s not a whole lot we can do for them. Pretty much everyone in the organization gets that, and, honestly, the group here won’t really put up with “victim” stuff for very long. When anyone here regularly opts for the negative, I know it’s usually only a matter of time before they end up leaving. By contrast, when everyone is making conscious decisions about their state of being . . . tensions drop, energy increases and everything just plain works better. I’ll just tell you, speaking personally, that life became a whole lot more fun and a lot less stressful once since I set myself free and realized that everything I did started with a decision I had made freely.