In today’s world, “success begins by empowering others”—literally.
We are no longer in an Industrial Age which values machines and “things.” We are deep into a Knowledge Worker Age which values ideas and intellectual capital. When ideas and intellectual capital are your most valuable assets, it goes 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.”
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 a 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 through my discussion and listened without saying a word (verbally), but occasionally nodded and smiled in agreement. He said, “Our CEO is in the audience. I hope he seriously takes to task your message.”
The CEO would storm through the workplace making threats to supervisors and employees alike, then storm out. His goal was to threaten people into performing. Instead, he would leave 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.
Some leadership gurus now refer to this type of leader as a “seagull” leader because they “fly into the workplace, crap on everyone, then fly away” leaving behind the mess they created. I tend to agree.
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 entire “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 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.
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. In today’s world, 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.”
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.
Check out my book “4 Generations @ Work: Leading from conflict to collaboration” where I share years of research into generational preferences and values, and dive into the Knowledge Worker Age culture and solutions.
Copyright © 2013 by Patricia Hatley
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