Whether you are a unit supervisor, department manager, division director, vice president or president you no doubt are responsible for the functioning and performance of said entity. So the question is, what kind of manager/leader are you?
The response categories for this question, if posed as multiple choice, are from the commonly used management/leadership books. Specifically, which of the following best aligns with your go-to practice: a) laissez faire hands-off :b) authoritarian command-and-control; c) transactional reward-punishment-based; d) transformational vision-change based; e) servant leader-based?
Bias in Self-Views
Many people will choose the category that they themselves would want to be managed/lead by, and if asked in an interview, they’d choose the category they think the interviewer requires. It is also (very) likely, the response many provide aligns with the style they believe themselves to be—better than average–which may not fit with reality. How many of us feel we are a caring, honest, trustworthy, fair and better than average, and correspondingly an in-kind manager/leader?
Note: Statistically speaking, assuming a human trait/behavior is approximately normally distributed—wherein the average is the center of the distribution—half of the population would be below average and half would be above average. Thus the tendency of many casting themselves as above average—effectually more favorably in comparison to others—contradicts this statistical fact thus indicating self-assessment bias.
If those who are egoistic, dishonest, untrustworthy, and generally uncaring actually acknowledged this about themselves, the few who had the courage—the inner strength–would make the necessary changes. Unfortunately, to such people image is everything, so they are quite adept both at denial and at charismatically presenting the very opposite facade to others, especially for career advancement.
Advance in the Organization’s Hierarchy
The fact of the matter is that there is a higher percentage of psychopathic behavior evident among those residing in the executive suite than is represented in the general population.
Perhaps some might ask: How could this be?
Because behavior must be understood within a context (as argued here and here), I must counter with: In a capitalist culture/environment wherein self-interest maximizing is raison d’etre how could it not be? That is to say, with the incidence in the executive suite being 3 to 5 times greater, the evidence points to career paths to the executive level are paved by those with such traits.
Perhaps, at least in the (capitalist) corporate-world, the lesson tacitly learned is nice-guys/gals do finish last!
Context for Optimal Collective Functioning
Ever heard the adage (attributed to Ken Blanchard) none of us is as smart as all of us? Translation: The collaborating minds of many people is better—more effective toward understanding, knowledge creation and problem solving–than all complying with the thoughts of one person. If we all adhere to the thinking of one person, then only one of us is necessary—hardly an optimally effective group!
Groupthink—often seen as compliance—occurs when the group decision-making process discourages, if not disallows, individuals to think critically and question. Another relevant quote, this from George Orwell (1984), “power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.” Groupthink does this very thing!
The optimal functioning of the collective—be it a, group, a team, a department, a division, the corporation–rests upon the degree of realized interdependence among autonomous, self-initiating and free-thinking people comprising the collective. Accordingly for best performance, leaders must create the context—both physical and psychological space—for the constituent self-initiating members to realize their humanness and in so doing continue to embrace learning as they manifest their unique talents and creativity for the benefit of all.
The context provided for the group/collective by the leader is through the formal and informal organizing structure, which is greatly influenced by the system of orientation (i.e. mechanistic worldview versus living systems worldview) held by those in-authority. The former being mind-numbing and thus life inhibiting and the latter life sustaining, if not enhancing.
What We Often Experience
Let’s first consider managing/leading people as objects, as units of labor/skills. In this scenario, managers/leaders often are heard saying they are tasked with driving their group/team/department/division/company to goal attainment. We must recognize that the language we use can be telling in regard to our orienting view of reality. So when people speak of needing to drive goal accomplishment they are expressing their mechanistic orientation—it is machines that are driven. Accordingly, individuals as units of labor/parts of the company (i.e. profit-making machine) need to be acted upon/moved to act as the one-with-authority desires.
In this mechanistic context, the best way to move an object is with the application of a force, and in this case the force is in the form of the prospect of reward/punishment. That is, the application of Skinnerian behaviorism—which is mechanistic—via a stimulus-response mechanism. This approach is in line with the implied employment contract, if you do what I want you to do then I will give you what you need (i.e. means to live life)! The corresponding punishment flip side of this proposition is, if you don’t do what I want you to do then I won’t give you what you need! Clearly, offering of a reward/incentive can’t be separated from its opposite, the prospect of being punished, of not getting the reward.
In this scenario the manager/leader is the one motivated: that is, motivated to get the task done and the employee is the one acted upon (incentivized) to move in the manager’s desired direction (note that moving another is not synonymous with motivation of the other). This approach aligns with both the authoritative and transactional styles of leading, which is position-based not relationship-based; it is a power-over others (as if property) way of managing/leading.
What Is Rarely Experienced Yet Needed
As argued here, organizational development greatly depends upon human development. Moreover, organizations need leaders because the organization is at base a collective of people—it is the people who need the leadership experience (as argued here).
It is further argued again here, that the leadership that could best afford human development, and thus organizational development—and in turn a more sustainable world–is human development intended leadership which requires a caring, empathic, authentic, and morally-principled way-of-being. After all, because we can only speak of leadership in regards to people, it ought to be personhood-based not position-based!
Perhaps we could begin thinking more deeply by exploring a few questions. What kind of person (that is, what way-of-being) would best be for a manager/leader to afford optimal functioning of a collective of people? What approach to leading would enable power-to people thus enabling critical thinking and creative thinking? What approach would foster the intra and interpersonal relationships essential to whole-person/human development, thus enabling higher level performance; that is, human productivity and in turn organizational productivity? What kind of management and organizing structure would turn the job into a joy? What way-of-being by those in-authority is needed for modeling-the-way for the members of the organization?
What You Need To Be
The above points to the essential need for people to be managed/lead in such a way so that they are enabled to be the self-initiating free-thinking persons who are interdependent with the other self-initiating free-thinking persons they are in collaboration with as members of the collective (i.e. group, team, department, division, company). That is, people as self-initiating persons are to be respected as such and supported in their development, not treated as objects to be manipulated and acted upon.
Accordingly, organizations need leaders of people who acts upon the understanding that the potential of the organization greatly depends the collaboration among the people and more specifically it emerges from the human productivity of these relationships.
So how would one manage/lead the collaboration of self-initiating people (not objects and units of labor)? What way-of-being would afford this?