What Leadership Looks Like in Human Organizations

In nearly every presentation I give about Humanize, a question comes up about whether or not these changes I’m talking about need to start from the top. I certainly see the value of a “sponsor” at the executive level, but as I’ve said previously, I don’t want to let people off the hook by telling them they need to wait until the senior leadership “gets it.” Proceed until apprehended is our motto. Start making change, particularly changes that can demonstrate better results. Better results quickly get the attention of senior leaders, and voila, you’re closer to having a sponsor!

At the same time, I’m not trying to deny the truth that we have hierarchies in our organizations. We do. And we have invested power and control at the top of those hierarchies. So if we want to create more human organizations, then it definitely helps to have people in those positions who see the value in a different way of doing things. I am okay with that.

But this presents us with a tough challenge, because for decades we have been making it pretty clear what it means to be a “leader” in an organization, and it’s quite inconsistent with what we talk about in Humanize. Leadership, as it is defined traditionally, is the job of people in positions of authority. The people at the top. They are the ones who:

  • set direction
  • allocate resources
  • hold people accountable
  • make the tough decisions
  • hire and fire people
  • divide up the work
  • inspire people
  • solve problems.

This is what our leadership does now, and it’s keeping them very busy. In fact, I have yet to meet a “leader” who is not at least close to being overwhelmed. They are stressed. They are overloaded. They are too busy “leading” to figure out whether what they are doing is what they system really needs.

Leadership looks different in human organizations. That’s not to say leaders aren’t busy. Anything worth doing is going to be hard work. This should surprise no one. But in human organizations, “leading” means something very different, and we need to start having conversations about that with the people on top of the org chart. As our Social Leadership Survey recently indicated, the more popular desired traits in leaders these days are the humanize-friendly traits like embraces change, shares information freely, and values experimentation. Do our “leaders” know how to do that? What would they need to STOP doing to free up time to do more of that? What new routines or new skills need to be developed? Are there expectations among the rest of the people in the organization that prevent our leaders from embracing these new ideas?

Our leaders need to be having this conversation and answering those questions. As I said above, it doesn’t necessarily have to come first, but they do need to do this work. Maddie and I are developing a training program for leadership teams to address this. It will be about unlocking potential in your organization by changing your leadership behavior and approach. If you’re interested in piloting this program with your management team, let me know.

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  1. 14.11.2012 at 10:34 am

    I love what you’re saying here and the perspective you’re coming from. I’ve become very passionate about Simon Sinek’s book, Start With WHY and I recognize a lot of your approach lines up with his thinking. I’m particularly interested in this leadership piece because at Slice-Works, we are branding and marketing strategists that believe in creating possibilities for our clients. And I believe authentic branding needs to come out of a clear sense of WHY that gets communicated clearly by the leadership both internally and externally.

    We are just up the road from you in Montgomery Village. Would love an opportunity to chat further with you. Also, may have a connection we could talk to about piloting your program. My direct line is 301-519-8101, X104. Hope to talk soon =)