Those past-their-prime touring rock bands play their old hits over and over. They cling to past success and are blind to their diminished influence and relevance.
Leadership practices are the same: repeating and rewarding oldies that aren’t goodies anymore. Practices one can find on the outdated leadership playlist include bosses enamored with using command and control, stereotypes that women don’t have what it takes, and hierarchies that reward narcissism while ignoring humility and real diversity of thought. Quantitative metrics like the low number of women in CEO roles and qualitative ones like job satisfaction show how these prevailing leadership paradigms are failing.
Today's leadership practices do not take into account either the “both/and” complexity or the collaboration and connectedness needed for business success. Unless and until the systems behind current leadership models change, plans to develop pro-active leaders who embrace people, principles and profits and whom people want to follow, don't have a chance.
Business leaders are forged into and rewarded for being economic warriors. The winners – the ones with a singular focus on growing the bottom line and maximizing shareholder return – take the spoils. Competition out-trumps collaboration. Task completion gets the performance blue ribbon while relationship-building is lucky to get an honorable mention. Managing paradoxical tensions and fostering engagement aren’t even on the radar screen.
Research tells us that social systems “are interested in the processes which enable the ‘powerful’ to maintain the privileges which are associated with it and the status quo.” As such, established practices and mindsets are bequeathed from one generation of leaders to the next like a secret lodge handshake.
Books, seminars and advice on how to fit in, break through the glass ceiling or play the game abound for women, minorities and men who don’t know the secret old boy’s club handshake or who didn’t inherit the “power over” gene. However, aren’t we missing the point here? Isn't it time to revisit the round hole rather than continue focusing on the square peg? Fitting in isn't the answer. Creating and practicing a whole new model of inclusive leadership is.
Leadership definitions, competencies, stories, methods, models and compensation need a dramatic make-over.
It's time to eliminate the “I win/you lose” mentality, and make way for a wider spectrum of both “take care” and “take charge” behaviors.
-Take charge practices involve using one’s head to plan, organize, direct and manage.
-Take care practices require using one’s heart to lead with courage, compassion, connection and collaboration.
This inclusive, paradoxical approach requires leaders to be both task- and relationship-oriented, empathetic and accountability-focused, confident and humble, and on and on. (Recent advances in neuroscience and mental strategies takes away our excuses and tells us this inclusive model is possible. Encouraging people to adopt the new behaviors is contingent upon changing competencies, compensation, etc.)
This new leadership orientation isn’t a menu in which one selects either “take care” or “take charge” methods. The new leadership framework is complex, full of dualities, and fueled by a desire to create, contribute and make a sustained collective difference.
Organizations must hire, train and promote leaders who augment either/or problem-solving with both/and polarity thinking. Doing so fosters a work environment in which both task completion and employee engagement matters. (Many both/and examples exist.)
I've seen it happen all too frequently in my corporate America days: the senior team goes off to a multiple day leadership development outing where they learn about collaboration, inclusion and being a Level 5 leader. Upon returning, the first question their boss asks isn't "what did you learn and how will you apply it" but rather "why are sales down" or "why is production in the Iowa plant below target." The realities of a workplace focused on economics takes precedence over practicing inclusive relationship-focused behaviors. What gets rewarded gets done.
While leadership practices do need to change sooner rather than later, it’s unrealistic to expect a radical and/or quick transformation given the breadth and depth of the required changes. (But let's keep the hope!) The most likely outcome is an evolutionary process in which systems, stories and practices morph into the new take care/take charge leadership model over time.
Early adopter executives and/or those (both men and women) who were never taught and/or who reject the old paradigm will lead the transformation. Business processes, results and profits will improve because of the wider spectrum of perspectives used to manage the business. The old guard will eventually take notice as nothing succeeds like success.
Warning: bold change requires bold thought so these starting points aren't for the faint of heart - seat belts might be required!
Fire Wall Street. Since the late 1980’s, leaders have managed publicly-held organizations to please Wall Street and shareholders, often harming internal stakeholders and business operations in the process. The still ongoing recession has proven Wall Street not to be the best role model. Now’s the perfect time for a bold and audacious CEO to announce at a quarterly Wall Street analyst call, “Thank you for your advice, which I'm ignoring by-the-way, to achieve double-digit revenue growth by reducing front-line labor costs. I’ll run my company to maximize returns to both stakeholders and shareholders.”
Up-end executive compensation. That bold and audacious CEO who just fired Wall Street must be willing to scrap all compensation plans at all organizational levels and begin anew in designing compensations plans that reward triple bottom line performance (people, planet and profits). Say goodbye to the second and third homes, posh private travel and all those other luxury perks that come with pay rates 343 times greater than the average worker.
Tell new stories and build new rituals. Outlaw stories told in reverential tones about personal heroics and individual achievement. Instead, gather around the corporate camp fire and regale one another with tales of humble yet determined leaders who value people, principles and profits.
Write a new leadership script. Scotch the singular emphasis on behaviors that support only logical, rational and objective outcomes. Reweave the leadership model to include achieving win-win outcomes, supporting and recognizing subordinates, and driving employee engagement and participation. New leadership practices must include "heart and soul" as Tom Peters points out in many of his writings.
Adopt polarity thinking as a new leadership competency. Polarity thinkers know how to manage strengths so they don’t become weaknesses. They eschew one-sided ideology in favor of exemplifying F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “true test of a first-rate mind is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time.” New model leaders won’t choose between people and the bottom-line, they’ll maximize both.
Clean house. Pink slip those who refuse to embrace and practice inclusive both/and thinking and who continue to use bottom line economics as the only success yardstick.
Nuke performance reviews. End the pencil-whipping appraisal that fosters either/or problem-solving, ignores those capable of managing paradoxes, and reduces productivity. A couple of meaningful suggestions scribbled on a napkin over a lunch-time dialogue will do more to move leadership performance than any automated performance appraisal tool that rewards the wrong behaviors. A few years ago, Samuel Culbert, wrote a great WSJ piece in which he outlined how performance reviews work against development and disrupt teamwork. Robert Sutton, Stanford professor and author, echoed the same sentiments in a blog post that prompted many people to share their disappointing experiences with reviews.
Change how development happens. Lose the one-size-fits-all development programs. Replace them with bespoke blueprints incorporating blended learning solutions, mentors, sponsors and informal learning. Dr. Ellen Weber of the MITA Center suggests replacing mentoring with mind-guiding, a reciprocal learning and leading process.
Kudos to Amy Diederich, President Braithwaite Innovation Group; Anne Perschel, President Germane Consulting; Mike Henry, President Lead Change Group; and Dr. Barry Johnson. All comfort zone pushers extraordinaire.
Clients and colleagues clamoring for a better way