Reinventing the Way We Cooperate
At the core of authentic cooperation lies the idea of sharing entrepreneurial space within agreed guidelines, while embracing a clear corporate identity. In each self steering community, the chosen identity, vision and culture become ‘the new hierarchy’. Instead of strong leaders there are strong principles and practices. And agile organizations combine visionary leadership with just enough guidance. The advantages are great: lower management costs, more collegiality, and better/quicker decisions. An excellent example of a value driven company is the Ritz Carlton Hotel company, certainly when former president Horst Schulze was ‘the chief inspiration officer’. Their credo is really wonderful: ‘We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen’. Dutch examples are Buurtzorg, Finext, Netvlies, and Schuberg Philis; these companies are living up to their own golden standards and consequently deliver superior services.
‘Slow management as antidote against hubris and self-destruction’
The competitive pace of the global market has unintended consequences; it’s fraying our social fabric, threatening meaningful relationships and providing less space for our hearts and souls. No wonder we feel lost, or at times helpless, because speed is indifferent to its destination. The frantic activity which compensates for this lack of direction is often a poor cover-up for a deep sense of emptiness pervading the organizations we lead.
To survive and to thrive, we must be acutely aware of who we are, what we do, and why we do it. Knowing ourselves makes success more likely and sustainable. The example set by our own transformation is more powerful than any demand we make on others.
Authentic leadership means knowing the difference between moving quickly and knowing where to go. The shift towards agility is therefore about reorienting our own mental models, away from hierarchy and our love of power and towards self-organizing networks and a deeper sense of ownership of all stakeholders. Slow management is the antidote against hubris and self-destruction. But the changes that agility requires are not easy. On a personal level it includes unlearning over a century of inherited management instincts. That is the true human evolution into our modern times.
“Wouldn’t it be great if every day, everyone came to work wanting to improve the business and provide the best service possible to clients and colleagues?”
This is not a farfetched dream, it is a necessity within the new market circumstances, wherein the customer is king and very demanding, and top talent is scarce and impatient. All stakeholders demand a highly personalized experience, not a ‘one size fits all’ approach. This experience cannot be delivered by old school organizations and old fashioned people. According to leadership author Peter Block, significant personal transformation is replacing self-interest, dependency, and extrinsic motivation with service, responsibility and partnership. Individuals who see themselves as partners in business will choose responsibility over entitlement, top performance over mediocrity and hold themselves accountable to those over whom they exercise some form of power. On the one hand, people must feel empowered to create unique and personal experiences for the customers. On the other hand, they must understand their role in the business process and their own key performance indicators. In this complex game, the final challenge for everybody is to use good judgment in all situations and to be accountable for everything you do.
“Are you willing to use your power wisely?”
Successful companies know that they are buying talent and dedication, not butt-on-chair time. People should be allowed and encouraged to take ownership, set their own goals, re-arrange their week, drop the traditional notion of a weekend, and divide the seven days among company time, personal time and leisure. In this new world the main challenge is not only to liberate people and free them from all elements of working life that made it a drag, but also to keep all participants fully accountable for their added value to the business results. Once employees feel challenged, invigorated and productive, their efforts will naturally translate into profit and growth. In other words; loosening up the control unleashes productivity and contributes to the happiness of all involved.
‘We can lead passion or we can manage lethargy’
Work is not a form of necessary suffering. We can lead passion, or we can manage lethargy. At the core of authentic communication lies the idea of sharing entrepreneurial space within agreed guidelines, and embracing a clear corporate identity. In each self steering community, the chosen identity, vision and culture become ‘the new hierarchy’. Instead of strong leaders there are strong principles and practices. And they combine visionary leadership with just enough guidance. The advantages are great: lower management costs, more collegiality, and better/quicker decisions.
An excellent example of a value drive company is the Ritz Carlton Hotel company, certainly when former president Horst Schulze was ‘the chief inspiration officer’. Their credo is really wonderful: ‘We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen’. Dutch examples are Buurtzorg, Finext, Netvlies, and Schuberg Philis; these companies are living their own gold standards and consequently deliver superior services.
“An invitation to the nobility of leadership”
We need leaders, who put service over self and who can be steadfast through crisis and failures. They must act, when it really matters. In order to achieve this shift, leaders must first develop their own authenticity, ethics and self-awareness. Without this awareness you are likely to be a victim of old patterns, holding yourself and other people hostage. This will, in turn, diminish the trust people have in you as a leader, in each other and in their own capabilities. The result is an accelerated uneasiness; a trap that ultimately makes everyone feel less secure. In our fast changing world this is a recipe for a disaster. Therefore, true transformation includes and transcends personal change. We must add a new dimension to the tools and skills in our repertoire. Agile leaders must move themselves and their organizations away from enforced obedience or only looking after yourself and develop inclusion, co-creation and engagement. True leaders who have the ability and the self-knowledge to show and inspire integrity, authenticity and a sense of purpose will give themselves, their people and their organizations the agility and resilience to move with grace through our rapidly changing times.
Rob Fijlstra has decades of involvement in organizational development for both for-profit and non-profit organizations. He has worked as an HR leader in the banking industry and the last 25 years he has served his clients as an external consultant. He is widely known for his work in promoting authentic leadership, slow management, interpersonal competence and inclusion. Although most of our workplaces are not designed to affirm idealism, invite more intimacy or encourage depth, Rob still thinks that these qualities really matter in our fast changing times. Because more than ever we need thoughtful and inspiring leaders to reveal how we can create agile and soulful organizations.
Rob is an enthusiastic speaker at conferences throughout Europe, and a sought-after facilitator of leadership programs and boardroom conferences. He is affiliated with The Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group of Troy, New York, a graduate of the Dutch Institute for Social Sciences, and a Certified Management Consultant. He is the author of four books in Dutch and one in English.
Link naar het boek The New Leadership