In today’s world, success begins by empowering others—literally. Leadership is no longer just about getting people to follow; it’s about giving people a voice so they think for themselves.
You will hear this more and more as we move further into the next decade. Organizations that have not grasped this understanding and begun the process of creating a culture that aspires to empowerment will be left far behind.
We are no longer in an Industrial Age which values machines and “things.” We are in a Knowledge Worker Age which values “ideas” and “intellectual” capital. When ideas and intellectual capital are your most valuable assets, it comes without saying that your success depends on your ability to maximize human potential. Your goal as a leader and manager will be to “inspire” your people to the highest level of engagement and performance. Notice! I said “inspire.”
A critical factor in all this is that the younger generations will not tolerate the Industrial Age style of leadership. They thrive on a culture of collaboration, autonomy, self-expression, and empowerment. “Tell me what the vision looks like—and/or let me help develop the vision—then get out of my way and let me determine how to get there.” Let me think for myself using the tools I grew up with and know how to use.
Yet, most modern day leadership styles evolved from the Industrial age. Some people say, “Why change? It worked then and still works.” Does it?
In the Industrial Age leaders managed machines—“things.” As such, people were told what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. People did not think for themselves. They came to work, punched the proverbial clock, and then eight hours later punched the clock again to go home. Leaders expected people to be automatons as they were expected to “do as I say.” Leadership style was top down, authoritative, and fear-based, and still dominantly is. People had no voices. Innovation and creativity was nonexistent. In organizations that still use this style of leadership, innovation and creativity is still nonexistent.
After a speaking engagement recently, one male attendee approached me after the program. He had sat near the back throughout my discussion and listened without saying a word (verbally), but nodded constantly and occasionally would smile in agreement. He said, “Our CEO is in the audience, and I do hope he sincerely takes to task your message.”
He went on to say that every day his CEO “stormed” through the workplace making threats to supervisors and employees alike, then stormed out. His goal was to threaten people into performing. Instead, he left in his wake teams of broken people who could not wait until the end of the day to go home, and who have no desire to come back the next day. It’s just a job. The individual I was speaking to was the organization’s human resources leader who recognizes the issue, but he has no voice to change the process. The HR leader also deals with the high turnover, complaints from disgruntled employees, and associated costs of hiring and training.
Some leadership gurus now refer to this type of leader as “seagull” leadership because they “fly into the workplace, crap on everyone, then fly away” leaving behind the mess of broken people. I tend to agree. Furthermore, this is not leadership at all.
People are not “things.” Organizations are filled with human beings with souls. And people do not respond to being treated like “things”—like a machine.
Leadership used to be described as “getting people to follow.” That is the last thing you want in today’s service-intensive, fast-moving global economy. You want people to think for themselves. Today’s success depends on the ability to “empower” people to think for themselves.
Even the term “knowledge” is defined differently in a Knowledge Worker Age. Knowledge is no longer about what it “is” or what it “can do,” nor is it about developing things and storing it. It is about “collaborative thinking.” Knowledge, solutions, ideas, innovative and creative thinking evolve from collaboration.
The organizational world has moved from a “boss-centered” culture to a “team-oriented” culture. It’s not about the “boss” or “leaders,” it’s about the “team.” In this environment, the “boss” does not know everything, as was the method in the past—power and control; he or she relies heavily on the collective knowledge and energy of the team.
A collaborative culture results in a cycle or spiral of continuous process improvement, as well as the evolution of new products, services, and customer solutions. It also unleashes incredible energy, talent, resourcefulness, and new ideas. It’s incredible what an inspired, empowered group of people can do.
The dominant thought process is that a real Knowledge Worker Age empowered culture can outperform an Industrial Age culture fifty times. Fifty or more times! This is because “everyone” is thinking and acting on their own instead of waiting to be told what to do and how to do it. It is also because people are “inspired” instead of “suppressed.”
Organizations are also leveraging technology, which improves efficiencies and production. Another significant factor is that organizations are leveraging the diverse knowledge and skill sets of team members—powerful. Whereas in an environment driven by authoritative leadership methods, all this knowledge and energy is trapped within individuals never to be used. You can compare this to wasted resources or misuse of resources. Much like burning money!
Obviously, Industrial Age leadership styles must change. Your front-line “managers” must now be “leaders” as they are responsible for inspiring your employees who interact directly with and take care of your customers every day. Your front-line managers can make or break your organization. But, change must start at the top with a belief and understanding of “why” and “how.”
© Patricia Hatley. All rights reserved.