Centralised and control-based organisations are fast losing relevance in a world characterised by globalisation, diversity and a new generations who demand to be involved in your business. This calls for a period of leadership that will disrupt current leadership patterns and lay the foundations for a new leadership era; and irrespective of what the future of leadership may look like, the reality is that the depth of disruption required, and the sustainability and relevance of whatever new era of leadership emerges, it will be founded upon the values of openness, transparency and trust.
I recently heard Jeff Immelt, global CEO of GE, say that you “become a better CEO if you are willing to face into your own mistakes and be prepared to learn from them.” That statement is disruptive in and of itself. It challenges long held beliefs that the more senior you are the more you should know, and that you shouldn’t let the world see the chinks in your armour. It is also a statement that opens the door to two important concepts that underpin Disruptive Leadership; transparency and embracing emergence.
Traditionally, the holding of knowledge represents power. To willingly share knowledge or create an environment where sharing and openness is the norm is therefore scary. For this reason, transparency in leadership, as it is in any part of business, is often considered disruptive; especially in those organisations who have evolved a bureaucratic and rigid culture over a long period of time. At its heart, transparency is disruptive simply because it asks us to bare ourselves to the world and challenges those around us to do the same. Baring ourselves can appear in may forms; perhaps it is a team admitting that it can't deliver, or on a personal level sharing that you are anxious, excited or anything in between. It is about operating on a different dimension; one that creates level playing fields within a team or function, creates trust and opens the door to collaboration. For those leaders who are brave enough, it allows people to see them for who they really are and what they stand for. There is no false wall between them and their people. Remember that people engage equally with hearts and not just minds.
Integrating transparency isn’t without its challenges, least of all understanding the maturity and readiness of your audience for a heightened level of openness. At the same time you can also consider this a ‘chicken and egg’ situation, for without being prepared to share more openly in the first place, how will our people learn how to be open themselves, and take on the same behaviours?
For the Disruptive Leader, the idea of emergence, and that a solution could be created in their team is far more important and exciting than feeling that they should know everything. The Disruptive Leader is always open to their blind spots, and the blind spots of their team, and seeks to create opportunities for stimulation that provide the best conditions for engagement, emergence and performance. The key to making emergence work is ensuring that the team knows the boundaries within which they are working. This is as simple as ensuring everyone is clear on the primary objective of the team, their roles in relation to the primary objective, and the strategic direction and context within which the team is operating. Once everyone is clear on what they are doing and why, your job is to guide the energy in the group and create an environment that extracts the best from your people, individually and collectively. In other words, let them play, take risks and experiment within the context of why they are here, and what they are helping the wider organisation achieve. Maureen Dougherty, Australian and South Pacific CEO of Boeing recently said with regards to optimising research and development (R&D) investment that "R&D is not just about dollars...it is the extent to which we let engineers be courageous and curious and encourage them to try wild ideas." These words bring to life the potency of emergence; especially if those same engineers were clear on the strategic context of their work, the primary objective of their team or function and how their individual roles were contributing to the objectives and strategy.
Disruption with constructive intent will no doubt become a core value for organisations who want to stay fresh and relevant in such a fast paced and highly evolving world. It goes without saying then, that the ability for leaders to embrace disruption and incorporate it into everyday leadership may be the single most important capability and mindset to be developed over the coming years to help drive organisational success and sustainability.
I read often about the idea that the aim of groups is to be able to ‘work together’. In the context of the world today, and what is described as the Participation Age, I wonder if ‘working together’ is enough? My experience is that if we are 'working together' then we are in a state of getting on with the job; doing what needs to be done to meet an outcome. In the past that may have sufficed, however we find ourselves in a position today where increasingly we are seeing transactional and administrative type tasks going the way of self-service and automation. This process is eliminating an important layer of ‘the work’ that we once got on with, and creates a new definition of what it means to get on with the job.
This new foundation layer is more transformational than it is transactional. It means getting on with the job in an era defined by continually changing technologies that influence rapidly shifting business expectations, and with a generation of younger, more world-aware, and ‘instantaneous’ employees. Underpinning this is a business environment where the borders that separate countries are less likely to define business context. Instead, the borders that encompass like minds and shared desires become the new business context. This shift brings with it a whole new set of challenges that redefines what it means to work and to lead.
So, coming back to my initial question…is ‘working together’ enough to ensure organisational success in the Participation Age? I think it’s a good start, though the real goal is to progress to the frame of ‘winning together’. The table below shows some of the key transitions will help an organisation move from Working Together to Winning Together:
Whilst there are not many organisations that could attest to being completely in the frame of Winning Together, when I speak and work with those people who are fortunate enough to be in organisations who lean that way, what I hear in the words they use, and see in the things they do, is a real sense of liberation. They speak of the freedom to experiment and exercise entrepreneurialism within a clearly defined set of boundaries. They speak of leaders who are more interested in feeding and guiding their energy around a task rather than micro-managing the task. Above all, they speak about how they are encouraged to bring themselves to work…not just the part that completes the job. They fully participate in ‘how’ the job is done, and not just that it is done. They therefore have a vested interest in success, and finding ways to be successful; for themselves and for the business.
In addition, when we consider the literature on how to work with Generation Y and those who will follow, we know that ‘working together’ isn’t going to cut it for much longer. Anyone who is currently leading a team of Millennial’s will most likely already be cutting their teeth on the attributes listed in the Winning Together column above.
As we enter the early days of the Participation Age, I’m not sure that merely ‘working together’ will be enough to ensure organisational longevity and success. A 'Winning Together' mindset it seems may be the new non-negotiable basis from which we work and lead.