Have you noticed that across the business world people are
recognizing that we are fast outgrowing the thinking and language of hierarchy, but we're also struggling to create a new, more collaborative future? The challenge for all is to figure out how to operate in this emerging paradigm—the one that our efforts are helping to shape.
As I work with top leaders in organizations and then, independently, the staff they lead, I’m frequently struck by the gulf that occurs between the two in the early stages of change. Typically what the leaders are trying to offer employees is very different than what’s being received by them. While a significant number of leaders begin with optimism about their efforts to engage everyone’s greatest wisdom, staff members can be slow to recognize and trust the intent of initiatives undertaken to empower them. Many employees simply don’t believe that their insights and decisions will be valued, so they continue to hold back. Some may be unwilling or feel unprepared to share in the responsibility for what the group creates. In their hesitancy, they work against the changes and make it more difficult to include them in creative and decision-making roles.
When members of either group become frustrated during the creation of a new working order it’s easy to resort to what they know best—the behaviors of the boss-subordinate relationship. Those with formal authority may again feel compelled to take up too much space (by using commanding words and actions), and followers too little space (by silencing their voices or talking only in whispers amongst themselves).) When this occurs, leaders once more feel all the weight of responsibility on their shoulders, as well as the exhaustion that comes with constant staff resistance—a resistance they can no longer understand.
What accounts for the tension and the different perceptions that exist between two groups who must rely upon each other to maximize success?
Unfortunately, many myths and “old truths” about leadership linger and keep us caught in the snare of hierarchy. At every level of an organization, these beliefs undermine a company’s potential greatness and cause unnecessary stress and dissatisfaction. These myths must be ferreted out and talked about for businesses to successfully, and more effortlessly, create a collaborative and effective culture.
3 MYTHS OF LEADERSHIP
1. LEADERS MUST HAVE FORMAL AUTHORITY.
What happens when people throughout the organization believe leaders must have formal authority? People see leadership as a position, rather than as an action or behavior accessible to everyone. It invites those with formal authority to value their own opinions over others, and it keeps people who don’t have it from stepping to the plate and sharing in responsibility for the success of the organization. It divides the powerful from the powerless and creates the tendency for the people in these two camps to lob blame back and forth across the fence that separates them. Each group holds the other responsible for the dynamics between them, and for bringing about the needed change.
2. LEADERS MUST HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS.
Do leaders need to have all the answers? People tend to answer this question with a resounding “no,” but in everyday business, the myth creeps subtly in to do its damage. Many leaders secretly harbor feelings of inadequacy and incompetence as they try to speak with unconvincing expertise and authority on every aspect of their complex business. At the same time, frontline workers fault their leaders for lacking their particular brand of genius and, consequently, ridicule or work against their efforts. Employees may almost arrogantly wait for a leader’s plan to fail, and take no responsibility for failures when they do occur.
3. LEADERS SHOULD KNOW HOW TO ACHIEVE THEIR VISIONS.
Although at first blush it makes sense that leaders ought to know how they are going to achieve their visions, the speed of change in today’s world makes it prudent to reassess the “rightness” of the organization’s direction after each step taken and to make regular “course corrections.” Equally important, as things become increasingly complex, and people place value on contributing in meaningful ways to accomplishing a shared vision, it is crucial to consistently include the wisdom that exists everywhere in the organization. Sadly, efforts to create this agile, responsive and inclusive workplace can be misunderstood by many employees if they are not given a chance to understand why and how things unfold as they do. Rather than seeing themselves as co-creators of the organization’s success, many feeds upon the idea that management already has all the answers and is “holding out on them” in some important and harmful ways, or that leadership is inept for not fully charting the course before beginning a new initiative.
Aim For World-Class and Be Legendary,
Your Coach - Christian