Knowledge centre

Question for leaders  |  30 August 2023

“What does it mean when a theft is committed within the organization?”

Systemic leader Barbara Hoogenboom:

“If someone in an organization steals – time, products, office supplies, money – or in other ways appropriates something that does not belong in the normal exchange of work and wages and compensation, then as a leader you have two ways of doing this: to respond.

One is the way that has to do with law. So someone can or must be punished, or perhaps summarily dismissed or reprimanded: depending on the seriousness of the offense and what the agreements are about it, or our norms and values ​​within society.

You can also ask yourself: what is this theft trying to convey to you or your organization at another layer? Theft has to do with exchange, where someone takes more than what has been agreed. If you look systemically, you might wonder whether that is actually an attempt to get something right again. So that begs the question: where in the past did a skewness or an imbalance in exchange arise?

Which ‘shortage’ or which imbalance does the person (unconsciously) put right? This does not necessarily have to be an imbalance in the organization, it can of course also be the case that the person himself feels that he has been wronged or disadvantaged, perhaps even in the personal life of the thief, in another system.

But it can also, and this is more common than you might think, have to do with the organizational system itself. So it also pays to look beyond the person who committed the theft. And to see: where does the organization still have an open debt? And who is that with? So if the thief stole not on his own behalf but on behalf of someone or something else, who or what is that? Which group of people may have been disadvantaged earlier in history? These can be internal groups of people, but also customer groups or groups of people who are no longer even employed in the organization.

When an exchange has gone awry, a theft can be a rebuke to behavior in the system. Perhaps as a leader you still have something to do, to acknowledge or to rectify in the exchange.”

This question comes from the Systemic Leadership Fan. This fan contains 224 questions on 45 themes. Every question has the potential to help you in your systemic leadership.

Barbara Hoogenboom

Leader Systemic Business School


Systemic Business School

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