Trust in leaders is at an all time low because, as a general rule, leadership has not evolved as fast as people’s expectations of leaders. In the past politicians and business leaders could more easily conceal their bad behaviour. Today it just isn’t possible to the same degree. We are not as deferential as we once were. Fewer people just accept what they are told – even though a frightening number still appear to! We have legislation which forces companies to publish compensation arrangements and we have the Internet where consumers can publicise their bad experiences. During the 20 years where this has been happening, no consensus has yet emerged to replace the still all too prevalent command and control mentality of the past.
Ricardo Semler wrote Maverick 20 years ago(?). Before that Tom Peters was evangelising on the power of liberated employees. My personal experience of management is that it mostly gets in the way. If you look at the performance of most PLCs you could be forgiven for thinking that the true purpose of their existence is to enrich management at their shareholders’ expense.
Politicians act in a similar manner, looking after their own narrow, short term interest at their electorate’s expense. The greatest mess – the current financial situation – was caused by a simple combination of de-regulation and greed. Watch the film Inside Job.
In contrast to politicians and financiers, values-driven organisations follow the law of precession. In doing so they make more money for their stakeholders over a longer period of time than those corporations solely focused on short term gain.
We may be coming to the end of an era in terms leadership. I know from the personal experience of designing and implementing self-managing organisations that generation Y will not put up with the shortcomings of old style leadership.
Back in 1996 when I had already been implementing self-managing teams on the shop floor for cellular manufacturing for nearly 10 years, I set up a self-managing factory with no factory manager. The whole place was run by a five person team – the people who had reported to the previous plant manager who had retired. Each month one member of the team would come to the monthly business meeting to report on their progress. That person would be well briefed and able to answer any questions about any department or function within the business.
It was this experience which gave me the insight that the leadership challenge is to create and maintain the environment in which other people can be successful. My job, very often, was simply to be there to hold the space. The guys didn’t need anyone to do their jobs for them, what they needed was the opportunity to show what they could do, given the chance. I reinforced the message I wanted the organisation to receive by promoting the guys who got results through their people. The people I took with me to corporate meetings were not those managers that reported to me. The guys I took were the ones getting the best results regardless of their position in the hierarchy. 16 years ago, in a conventional corporation, those kinds of actions stood out like a sore thumb. Today, if you don’t do it, you’ll lose the battle for talent.
Corporations are already noticing that Generation Y are asking more questions of their leaders. They want to know how they think, they want to know the reason why and the smart ones will only join those organisations that have the right answers. It is the battle for empowered, informed talent that will ultimately cause the evolutionary step that leadership needs to take.