I am coming to a stage in my life where I discover that most if not all of the knowledge, models, methods, and principles I learned at school and the last 30 years of my career are completely outdated and irrelevant for the new reality we live in.
That also applies to the concept of leadership. We’ve all learned about heroic and charismatic leaders. That leaders are leaders when they have followers and when they can create the conditions to engage her followers in a new direction, a place where no one has ever been before, to make 1,000 flowers blossom, etc, etc
With some notable dropout exceptions (Jobs, Gates, Bezos, etc), “leaders” all have the “right” attitude and have MBAs or other impressive certificates. They have the right profile. They went to right schools and the top universities like Harvard, Stanford, INSEAD, etc. Career progress and evolution is systematically reserved to this elite. Even upon today, I see companies that reserve certain professional or personal development programs to those who have the right certificates. How sad.
Most of these “leaders” fit a certain “style”, and most have been moulded in the same factories. Well-dressed, always smiling, ready to help, forthcoming, making it in every aspect of the professional and private lives, always reserved, never angry or upset, in control of their emotions, etc. They make impressive careers, mainly by pleasing their hierarchies, by staying in the blueprint and taking no risks.
But over time, I have become suspicious and bitter about these perfectly casted people. In many organisations I have seen how cheer-“leaders” joyfully smile in the face of their subordinates and at the same time put a knife in the back of the same human beings.
Some “leaders” have even “developed” an almost sadistic pleasure in ignoring and destroying well-crafted pieces of work. I would like to illustrate this with a story from during my studies as architect.
We got an assignment to build an exposition hall and the creation of the space had to be based on some repeating element of construction. As part of the coming-out we had to make artistic sketches, draw the precise floor plans and construction details, and work out the whole thing as a model on scale, including the repeating construction element. I think a worked 3 weeks day and night to make the deadline, and I was quite proud of the result. The model was made out of fine balsa wood. During the review session, my “leader” – the professor and coach, I still remember his name – found an immense pleasure in shooting apart with his fingers the fragile construction. I was not amused; in fact I felt deeply hurt and humiliated.
This is of course quite extreme and even psychopathic behaviour but I am sure each of us can find one or more examples in their career where their project-of-a-lifetime was shot in pieces apart. If it would happen again, I would probably kick and scream, or no, be subtler and present a glass of purifying water, as in this great advertisement from Spa Reine.
Some of the perfectly trained leaders also never take the pain to reach out to those who are more introverts who hunger for depth and they only listen to the extroverts who are most vocal that reach out to them. Decisions about subordinates are made in secrecy.
But the secrecy-trick does no longer work out in this hyper-connected environment, and news that is supposed to be kept confidential in the catacombs of the power hierarchies is dripping through the more and more porous walls of our organisations.
This new self-emerging transparency leads of course to a huge credibility crisis for the leader, as she does not know that you already know, and her “in-control” pose becomes painfully revealing of the true nature of those so called leaders.
Of course, Pepsodent, Spa Reine and the external look-and-feel vestimentary attributes are only metaphors for something deeper going on.
The problem with this sort of leadership is that it is leadership based on what you are (your power position in a hierarchy) versus who you are, your true internal power as a human.
A monkey in a suit remains a monkey in a suit.
We need a more humanistic approach, inspired by meaning and purpose; an “eudaimonic” economy as so well described by Umair Hague in “Is a Well Lived Life Worth Anything?”
That’s an alternate vision, one I call eudaimonic prosperity, and it’s about living meaningfully well. Its purpose is not merely passive, slack-jawed “consuming” but living: doing, achieving, fulfilling, becoming, inspiring, transcending, creating, accomplishing – all the stuff that matters the most. See the difference? Opulence is Donald Trump. Eudaimonia is the Declaration of Independence.
We have too many Donald Trumps in our organisations We need a culture that is based on deep respect and dignity for the human being. In this context, I recently had a conversation with a very senior businessperson of a multi-billion-technology company, who told me the parable of the Indian King.
The king had hired a consultant to advice him on the performance of the kingdom. The expert told the king to fire ½ of his workforce, as they did not have the same performance and added value to the kingdom as the top performers. The king responded “And what will those people do, once they get fired?”. The consultant answered, “Is that our/your problem? Your kingdom will be more efficient, that’s what you hired me for, no?”. The king did not follow the advice of the consultant, as he deliberately chose for a societal role in giving his citizens an job, a meaning, and a future, even if that meant a little bit of overhead. His choice was driven by people’s dignity.
The leadership that we all learned about starts smelling like a myth: the myth of charismatic leadership. But don’t blame them. That’s how they have been trained and educated. And the “training” or “brainwash” already started at those business schools, provided that you were lucky enough to be born in a family with wealthy parents that could pay the bill, or you were prepared to put yourselves in life-long debts as slaves to the financial institutions of this world.
The first thing I notice about the Harvard Business School campus is the way people walk. No one ambles, strolls, or lingers. They stride, full of forward momentum. The students are even better turned out than their surroundings, if such a thing is possible.
No one is more than five pounds overweight or has bad skin or wears odd accessories. The women are a cross between Head Cheerleader and Most Likely to Succeed. They wear fitted jeans, filmy blouses, and high-heeled peekaboo-toed shoes that make a pleasing clickety–clack on Spangler’s polished wood floors.
Some parade like fashion models, except that they’re social and beaming instead of aloof and impassive. The men are clean-cut and athletic; they look like people who expect to be in charge, but in a friendly, Eagle Scout sort of way.
I have the feeling that if you asked one of them for driving directions, he’d greet you with a can-do smile and throw himself into the task of helping you to your destination—whether or not he knew the way.
“This school is predicated on extroversion,” and “Your grades and social status depend on it. It’s just the norm here. Everyone around you is speaking up and being social and going out.” “Isn’t there anyone on the quieter side?” I ask. They look at me curiously. “I couldn’t tell you,” says the first student dismissively.
These are extracts from “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” a fantastic book by Susan Chain. The book is an eye-opener in itself about the lost and untapped energy/potential of introverts in organisations.
The essence of the HBS education is that leaders have to act confidently and make decisions in the face of incomplete information. HBS was once called the “Spiritual Capital of Extroversion” where Top of Form “Socializing here is an extreme sport” and where verbal fluency and sociability are the two most important predictors of success.” writes Susan Chain, and goes on: “It’s so easy to confuse schmoozing ability with talent. Someone seems like a good presenter, easy to get along with, and those traits are rewarded. Exceptional CEOs are known not for their flash or charisma but for extreme humility coupled with intense professional will: quiet, humble, modest, reserved, shy, gracious, mild-mannered, self-effacing, understated. We don’t need giant personalities to transform companies. We need leaders who build not their own egos but the institutions they run.”
Leadership as we know it does not work anymore. We need something else. We also need a language to articulate what this new “thing” is. Some are starting to look into that.
The MIX http://www.managementexchange.com/ was co-founded by Gary Hamel and Michael Zannini (ex-McKinsey). They have set up a platform to share best practices on innovation, management and leadership. “It’s time to re-invent management” is their tag line, and Gary Hamel has written several books and rants on the subject. And as part of the M-Prize competition series, they just launched a new challenge on “Innovating Innovation”. I will write more about this and the related M-Prize where both Innotribe and Corporate Rebels United will make a submission before the end of the year.
But if you look carefully, many of the contributors are from mainly male-driven organisations with very extrovert people. They fit the HBS mould. We seem to keep on tapping into the same high-testosterone pool of resources.
That becomes very challenging for those who do not fit that mould: the ones who are introvert, and who are rarely listened too (if they ever get the chance to be heard); the ones who don’t have the right MBA or certificate; the ones who have a more feminine rather than masculine energy (some man have lots of feminine energy, like some women hive high doses of testosterone); the ones of the other gender, race, religion, age, education, etc
Nilofer Merchant, author of “11 Rules for Creating Value in the #SocialEra” (Amazon Associates link) rightly pointed out to me:
I hope our future economy is also about including the people who are unseen today. Those who are right in front of us, creating value but then ignored when it comes to be included as leaders, or thinkers to shape the future. No one does this out of bad intent, but out of blindness. Few people will realize that while Hagel and Kelly and Gray etc are mentioned, many well-respected best-selling women management thinkers were not. Our thriving systems HAVE to be open enough to include those that are currently blocked out. Blindness shifts when we start to be more conscious. Instead of perpetuating talking about the change, we have to embodying the change.
Indeed, something deeper is going on….
The concept of leadership introduces a number of dysfunctions. Rarely are these discussable or discussed in our romanticized conception of the mythological leader:
Leadership inevitably produces implicit (or even explicit) Parent-Child relationships. “Just one of many examples of this type of parent/child exchange is the unwritten pact that if employees do whatever their bosses ask of them (regardless of whether it makes good business sense) the boss will take care of their next promotion/career move.”
Leadership validates “followership” and thus increased risk of “social loafing“
Leadership cultivates “learned helplessness”
Leadership can increases alienation, tribalism and the formation of in-groups
Leadership often encourages favoritism, patriarchy, deference, sycophancy and obsequiousness, with a consequent reduction in both the quality and quantity of meaningful dialogue.
Leadership compounds and perpetuates the Analytic mindset
Leadership subtly undermines systems thinking, by breaking the social body into discrete parts (leaders, followers), and focusing attention on those parts rather than on e.g. the relationships between them, and the whole itself.
But the master of language and insight is for sure Rune Kvist Olsen from Norway. Checkout this excellent article “Leading-Ship: reshaping relationships at work”. Rune’s work is inspired by Mary Parker Follett (1868-1933), a visionary in the field of human relations, democratic organization, and management. The tagline of the Mary Parker Follet Network is:
Unity, not uniformity, must be our aim
Rune’s s elaborated thinking blew me away: he is rethinking “leadership” into “leadingship”. It cuts deep in what motivates people. Rune challenges big time all our preconceptions about leaders and followers. I felt deeply inspired by it. So, I got into a conversation with Rune.
During this post-Sibos period of the year, I take off every Friday of the week to create some space for myself to reflect, to catch up on some reading, at times just being there and sitting in silence and trying to make contact with myself again, and then – in that moment of awareness – getting inspired by books and art. One could call it a personal retreat in silence and/or reflection and/or depth.
It was during one of those Fridays that I had scheduled a very long Skype call with Rune so that I could give him my full attention and listen in full presence to the rich language and set of concepts Rune had developed over the years. Since then Rune keeps on sending me wonderful essays and manifestos: describing what is really going on under the hood of human beings in leadership context. It’s very fascinating, and I all encourage you to dive in and discover Rune’s work.
The biggest outcome of Rune’s work is in my opinion that he has developed a language to express this new type of being as a leader in your organisations. It is so new and refreshing, that it needs its own language and vocabulary. Only then you can engage in a conversation trying to understand each other.
A good example of this language is in the following slide (a small extract of a very long presentation)
That language is further elaborated in an essay called “Extracts from Humanistic Management Responsibility in the workplace”. It is about Imposed Responsibility (forced upon from outside) versus Chosen Responsibility:
The practice of “taking control” is a significant way in stimulating and inspiring self-esteem and self-confidence in the art of becoming a responsible and independent person.
Receiving and getting control from managers above implies that the person who is giving, still has control and can withdraw it at any suitable time.
Giving or delegating authority creates and sustain a superior/inferior relationship between the people involved.
This practice of giving as a form of domination is easily encumbered with the feeling of humiliation from the receiver’s point of view. The receiver could suffer the humiliation of not having personal control and not being able to take personal responsibility for the specific action at hand.
By granting power to people in gaining personal control and in becoming personally responsible for their actions, we are at the same time granting them real freedom to become true equals and fully human beings.
It is not difficult to understand that being an object of delegation and a recipient of giving (as a token of shared power), a person can naturally feel the humiliating bitterness engendered by being a powerless and subservient receiver and not having the authority in exercising personal freedom.
The result of this type of submissive role-behaviour, would possible entail the undermining of self- esteem, self-worth, and self-respect.
The most obvious flaw in the context of power concentration in the hands of persons in charge of others is the assumption that delegated responsibility is analogous to a commodity that can be shared among individuals or groups.
Giving or delegating responsibility can be conceived as a disguised way of pretending that people below will be empowered by the person above when this person is handling out some responsibility occasionally.
This is a deception in the sense that managers of other people are not actually entitled to give away any power because their power is connected to the managers’
Rune also signed up for Corporate Rebels United. We are btw now a worldwide group of about 200 people now and counting. And several pods being started up worldwide. More about that later.
As his contribution to the rebels’ story, Rune produced the following essay “The Story of a Corporate Heresy”.
The full version in PDF is here The Story of a Corporate Heresy, but to whet your appetite here are already some salient extracts:
These types of corporate activist movements emerges as a result of profound crisis in the way corporate communities are organizing, managing and leading their organizations. Corporate Rebel United is pointing out the problem:
“Our companies no longer serve our needs. They cannot keep pace with a high- velocity, hyper-connected world. They no longer can do what we need them to do. Change is required.” Corporate Rebel Manifesto 2012.
Why, what and how can offensive, progressive and constructive actions be a part of the solution and not the problem?
“You never change things
by fighting the existing reality.
To change something,
build a new model
that makes the existing model obsolete.”
The next and last question of the solution in reinforcing engagement and passion amongst everyone in the corporation is: “How can we unblock and reopen the free flow of creativity and innovation for everyone, and create engagement, enthusiasm and passion amongst one and all?”
The resolving answer could be lying in removing the factors that institutionalize the system of vertical power, and in replacing this system with a model that are granting everyone personal authority in exercising power through individual competence, ability and capacity.
All the above are useful reflections about our future leadingship models. But how do we get to that ideal model of leadingship?
As Einstein once said:
“A problem can not be solved
with the same methods
that created the problem”.
Rune – and Bucky, and Einstein – indeed indicated, that part of the solution is to get rid of the leadership that has brought us where we are today. But this is dangerous territory, as those are the leaders who still are in the hierarchical power position to eradicate the subordinates that do not fit the HBS blueprint, and try to challenge the existing system. It makes me think of recursive loops, or the drawings of M.C. Esher. At what point does the transition between night and day really happen?
“Day and Night” by M.C. Escher
Rune started sticking out his neck many years ago, in a period where he could not yet amplify his message through social media. Because he attacked the powers and hierarchies without defence, the system expelled him, and he ended up somewhat isolated, albeit in a beautiful self-built house on the borders of a beautiful Nordic lake (the story is correct, the picture below not)
It is not my ambition to get expelled, and I am trying to walk on thin ice every blog again to get your attention for being your true self.
It is in that context that my questions to you are:
- How can we get these new practices out of the reflection room and into the daily value creation practice?
- Who has already implemented these principles?
- What worked and what did not work when rolling it out or letting it emerge?
Let’s share and learn from each other. Let’s document this practice for value creation. This practice of Leadership. Jump in.