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Creating Leaderful Organizations

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The times demand a new style of leadership. Employees today are highly trained and independent-they can offer much more to an enterprise than simply their obedience. And with the relationship between worker and organization constantly changing, no one person will likely be able to lead alone. Creating Leaderful Organizations presents a paradigm of leadership tailored to our times, one that is based on mutual-rather than heroic-leadership.

It is not merely consultative, with leaders graciously allowing followers to participate in leadership, nor is it a stewardship approach in which the leader occasionally steps aside to allow others to take over temporarily. It is a revolutionary new approach that transforms leadership from an individual property to a collective responsibility. Raelin details how "leaderful" practice can accomplish the critical processes of leadership more effectively than any existing approach. And using actual examples from leading-edge organizations, he offers practical guidance for assessing your own and others' leaderful predisposition, preparing for leaderful practice, distributing leadership roles, and dealing with resistance to change.

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1. The Tenets of Leaderful Practice

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I would like to introduce you to an alternative paradigm of leadership: “leaderful practice.” It directly challenges the conventional view of leadership as “being out in front.” In the twenty-first-century organization, we need to establish communities where everyone shares the experience of serving as a leader, not serially, but concurrently and collectively.

Leaderful practice is unique compared to empowerment models that have become popular in recent years in that it does not merely present a consultative model wherein leaders in authority allow “followers” to participate in their leadership. Nor does it equate to stewardship approaches that see the leader step aside to allow others to take over when necessary. Instead, it offers a true mutual model that transforms leadership from an individual property into a new paradigm that redefines leadership as a collective practice.

It may seem somewhat ambitious to suggest that a book can produce an entirely new paradigm, but the recharacterization of leadership that I suggest is hardly a revolution. The subject in question is already in motion and, thus, has but to be brought into popular consciousness. In fact, although I had assumed that I had invented a new word—leaderful—I subsequently discovered that such authors as Robert Kenny, Jessica Lipnack, Charlotte Roberts, and Margaret Wheatley, as well as many other leadership consultants, had already made many references to it. So, I am now convinced that when all of us in the working world fully reflect upon the metaphor of “being leaderful,” we will collaborate in this endeavor of transforming leadership practice as we know it. The chaotic world of corporate affairs especially requires leadership that diverges from age-old conceptions of leading by control. The only possible way to lead our way out of trouble in management is to become mutual and to share our leadership.

 

2. The Distinctiveness of Leaderful Practice

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Although leaderful practice applies at all levels of the organization, it might well face its most direct assault not from those on the front lines but from those in the executive suite. Executives and their exponents might say, “Sharing and collaboration might work well among regular employees, but we must set the course and tone of the organization from the top.” For example, Carol Hymowitz, who writes an “In the Lead” column for the Wall Street Journal, reports the experience of general manager, Cynthia Danaher, in an article titled “How Cynthia Danaher Learned to Stop Sharing and Start Leading.” According to Hymowitz, the very talents that bring success to leaders at the entry and middle levels of the organization become counterproductive when one climbs farther up the corporate ladder. Presumably, one can no longer be an “involved-with-people” boss, nor can one promote teamwork at the upper levels. Danaher’s rationale is that “[p]eople say they want a leader to be vulnerable just like them, but deep down, they want to believe you have the skill to move and fix things they can’t. . . . Moreover, once a manager is in charge of thousands of employees, the ability to set direction and delegate is more vital than team-building and coaching.”1

 

3. The Challenge of Leaderful Practice

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Leaderful practice may not always be specified as the first leadership behavior exhibited within the community. Take, for example, the case of a hospital unit team who, having put up with a heavy-handed supervisor for fifteen years, got a chance to try out a self-directed team approach when the supervisor left the hospital.1 The unit chose as its team leader someone who had strong interpersonal skills and who it considered a much kinder and gentler person. Originally, the team was excited about performing some of the administrative functions that the former manager had previously handled. The new team leader worked right along with the other staff in the unit, sharing administrative responsibilities. Over time, however, the team members began to push a lot of the shared responsibilities back onto the team leader. They reverted to their old ways and began to insist that the new team leader take on many of the former manager’s tasks. What happened to the self-directed team concept?

This case brings up the challenge of introducing leaderful practice when people and institutions aren’t ready for it. Individuals and communities are not generally standing by, primed to assume leaderful behavior. They need to evolve both an appreciation for and an ability to adopt leaderful practice. Although I am advocating that teams adopt a leaderful approach, I recognize that communities cannot become leaderful overnight.

 

4. The Development of Leaderful Practice

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Since leaderful practice will likely require a change in outlook, especially regarding questions of control and participation in your community, it requires initiators who have become comfortable in their own inner world. Change may need to start with the “reflective stance,” which merely asks you to pause sufficiently to gain some awareness of your own actions. Ask yourself such questions as: Who am I, and what am I trying to achieve? What impact do I hope to have on the people around me, on my community, or on my society? Am I willing to share control with others? Do I believe in the capabilities of my associates? Am I willing to accept honest feedback on any experiments I wish to undertake in my leadership? Am I prepared to learn from my mistakes and examine my assumptions? Can I show my own vulnerability and even admit to others that I may not have all the answers?

Questions such as these require courage to ask of yourself privately, let alone in the company of others. Becoming leaderful, then, starts with doing work on yourself, especially learning how to “let go.” Dr. Iva Wilson, former president of Philips Display Components Company and coauthor of The Power of Collaborative Leadership, displays this inner struggle.

 

5. The Benefits of Leaderful Practice

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WHY SHOULD ANYONE ATTEMPT TO BUILD A LEADERFUL COMMUnity? What are the consequences of leaderful practice? Why do we expect leaderful practice to produce beneficial outcomes?

Leaderful behavior is inherently collaborative. It is control by the many rather than from the few. For most problems in our era, two heads are better than one. So, it should come as no surprise that leaderful practice is in the eyes of this writer a more effective approach to community leadership than the classic alternative of “being out in front.” It builds capacity to take mutual action. It ignites the natural talent in people to contribute to the productiveness and growth of the community.

Those people in a community who are encouraged to fulfill their potential are often inclined to dedicate some of that potential to their organization, if given a chance. In turn, such a contribution can have “bottom line” business effects, whether in established or in start-up organizations. A study at Cap Gemini Ernst & Young’s Center for Business Innovation, for example, found that a principal reason for new companies failing to exceed their IPO prices was their inability to engage employees in corporate goals and provide a satisfying work environment. A Gallup survey found that the most “engaged” workplaces (those that involved people in doing quality work, in fulfilling their talent, in demonstrating compassion and commitment to employees’ growth), compared to the least engaged, were 50 percent more likely to have lower turnover, 56 percent more likely to have higher-than-average customer loyalty, 38 percent more likely to have above-average productivity, and 27 percent more likely to report higher profitability.1

 

6. Concurrent Leadership

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IF THE POSITION LEADER OF A COMMUNITY HAS EITHER INHERITED or developed a group whose members can work effectively both independently and interdependently, then leadership can extend beyond the mantle of authority. People within the group can participate in leadership at the same time as the position leader.

As a revolutionary concept, concurrent leadership may threaten position leaders with loss of status or function, or even their very jobs. However, in a leaderful organization, they continue to occupy critical roles, though roles often discrepant from traditional bureaucratic authority. Among their responsibilities is to release everyone in the community to assume concurrent leadership. This does not mean they should “off-load” administrative responsibilities. Position leaders may well retain such duties initially and even after community members exhibit other leadership roles. The key difference is that these responsibilities—whether coordinating tasks within the unit or between the unit and external stakeholders, acquiring resources, or recruiting new members—need not reside entirely within the office of management. People share responsibilities as the situation warrants.

 

7. Collective Leadership

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LEADERSHIP IS BEING SEEN MORE AS A PLURAL PHENOMENON, something that the entire community does together. It does not need to be associated with the actions of a single operator. People in the community assume leadership roles when necessary, and through this collective action, leaderful practice occurs.

Consistent with the adaptive process of leadership, collective leadership may make its most important contribution to leaderful practice in promoting learning for the entire organization. Learning occurs as we make ourselves available to alternative perspectives of understanding. Although we tend to be willing to alter our perspectives on an individual basis, we also tend to resist exposing our vulnerability to others. Doing so requires a humility that seeks as much to serve as to achieve and to defer as to supersede. Creating a learning culture in an organization is easier said than done. No one can dictate openness to another; no one can demand someone’s vulnerability. Rather, it must pervade the culture of the organization.

 

8. Collaborative Leadership

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COLLABORATION AS A LEADERSHIP CONDITION MAKES INHERENT sense. As we shall discuss throughout this chapter, when people who implement changes are involved in the design of these changes, they tend to do all they can to see their plans fulfilled. In addition, when fully involved in the implementation of change, they tend to commit themselves to seeing the change through to the end. What a great way to work in a dynamic environment.

There may be a concern that leaderful managers cannot flourish or even survive in a nonleaderful culture because competitive associates will “eat them up.” Although working within a competitive culture can pose challenges, leaderful managers can advocate their viewpoints with the best of them. What distinguishes them from pure competitors is their keen ability and wholehearted commitment to listen to others and, subsequently, change their minds or build on a new contribution.

In this way collaborators can model an alternative to influence strategies built on competition, bargaining, or exchange. Their influence skills can be instructive when groups wish to invent new ways of operating that can lead to innovative outcomes.

 

9. Compassionate Leadership

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COMPASSIONATE LEADERS DO NOT SEEK TO CONTROL OR TO AWE others because of some unmet ego needs. Transcending their own ego identity, they seek to elevate others so that the whole community can benefit. What makes them special is not necessarily their own elevation to a high state of development but an interpersonal commitment to the dignity of others. They recognize the potential contribution of each member of the community, no matter what his or her position or status.

Yet, maintaining dispassionate control over the enterprise remains a popular prescription for leadership these days since it fits with the view that we require an “orderly universe,” one that eschews uncertainty and paradox. Most people do not like messes. They resist standing in the tension of opposites.1 They want conflicts resolved and our emotions held in check. This seems to be true even when we acknowledge that standing in the tension of opposites for a while can often lead to a better solution.

If dispassionate behavior is the norm, compassionate leaders may be correspondingly viewed as indecisive and weak. Consequently, leaders with a penchant for democratic practices might choose to avoid displaying these practices for fear of not seeming “in control.” Further, the Enron scandal, in which accounting irregularities led to the demise of a once-$50-billion empire, may have given top managers the impression that they operate at their own risk if they do not completely control their company. Unfortunately, direct control over behemoth enterprises that operate in countries across the globe can only be an illusion. You may reach a point where control may only apply to a few variables, leaving the less obvious but critical indicators away from the microscope. It is preferable to establish a culture of integrity that allows each operating unit the chance to manage itself while demonstrating accountability—in measures and in values—to the integrated whole.

 

10. Getting Started on Your Leaderful Quest

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YOU NOW KNOW WHAT LEADERFUL PRACTICE IS AND HOW IT compares to conventional leadership. You understand why leadership as we know it has to change if we are to prosper in our twenty-first-century organizations and communities.

You also realize that leaderful behavior in organizations will not miraculously show up; rather, it needs to be developed, first by you in your own self-development, and then by your community(ies). You also recognize that leaderful practice is made up of the four C’s, tenets that build toward a new paradigm of leadership. The four C’s, in turn, are constituted of a number of prior leadership traditions that need to be mastered to develop day-today leaderful practice.

Even though you may understand all of the aforementioned considerations, are you ready to embark on a change in your behavior as early as tomorrow? You might have resolved that whether you’re a manager or an employee, leaderful practice is something you can experiment with and adopt as your leadership quest. So, in this last chapter, I will address some immediate methods to get started on this quest, whether you’re a manager or an employee. There’s no need to wait any longer. Give it a shot. And good luck!

 

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