Periodically I assess whether it still makes sense to pound away at the idea that we need to change the leadership model we all get handed growing up at school and early in our careers for work and other everyday purposes of getting things done in any situations involving people. It’s now fairly well accepted as a theory that we need to move from a command and control model to a coaching-style model. I prefer the latter term to the fading ‘servant leadership’ concept that aimed to capture essentially the same concepts, but I’d settle for whatever terminology gets people there.
Even in the last week a number of illustrations arrived one way or another that make the point that more of us see the need to change the model, but we sure aren’t there yet. They’ll take more than one post.
First, the winning student duo in the competition put on by the HR think tank (www.scnetwork.ca) that I volunteer and write for made it abundantly clear they see what the future of leadership should look like. But they put it in an oddly striking way that shows they know we aren’t there yet.
The contest requires envisioning what the world of work will look like in the year 2040, 28 years from now. In reality they seemed more to indulge themselves in what sounded like wishful thinking about what the world of work ought to look like when they enter it about 2 years from now. That, they said, should be a world where there are no bosses. In a fairly blunt way it was a plea not to subject them to what they foresee is the dominant leadership model today – and it was their one primary issue. Significantly our judging panel of senior Vice Presidents agreed, but also bought into the idea this was a distant vision. We all hope for the change, but can’t see how it could happen soon.
What the winners said more specifically was ‘”there will be no ‘jobs’ but instead companies will hire independent contractors, expert at their duties, for projects. and once hired these experts (read ‘us students’) will be left alone to do our thing because we know best, we’re trained, we’re smart and we’re perfectly capable (so there will be no need to boss any of us around).” This was the one salient fact they expect to see in future work – no command and control. It could hardly have come out much clearer.
When pushed the winners allowed there would be a small core of strategic decision makers in companies, supported by an HR staff whose job it will be to find and hire these project experts, but after that ‘no control necessary – once you’ve told us the aim, leave us alone.’ This echoes futurists like my friend and fellow speaker, Warren Evans, who for more than 10 years has presented the topic he calls “Hollywood Days and Cyber Knights” – based on the ‘hollywood’ model (also mentioned by others) of assembling teams of experts from various areas to do a film, who go their separate ways when it’s finished, then awaiting the next film project. and online ‘cyber’ knights, technology savvy contractors hired just as the students envisioned. The ‘controlling’ feature in such arrangements is talent and demonstrated track record. If you’re no good, don’t expect any other contracts.
The book “Free Agent Nation” by Dan Pink from 2002 makes many of the same points. While one can update the theory, the underlying premise is the same – get rid of command and control or more and more people will refuse to actually stay with you. They will increasingly prefer to depend on their wits and skills to get them a series of jobs so they are more or less autonomous.
These themes occur more frequently today in articles and books, yet we still see nearly 80% of leaders on-the-job using command and control style of giving orders. In a restaurant this afternoon, the manager walked by a “bus boy” and literally shouted, “clean the floor, get a mop, get going.” Apart from the obvious fact this man (not boy) was used to this treatment and didn’t flinch as I did, you have to wonder what that ‘boy’ will use as a management technique when he begins to run his own business as, like many other new Canadians, seems quite likely. Unfortunately abusive styles tend to perpetuate as we know from studies of abuse within generations of families. And so command and control perpetuates. It’s often just downright rude. It’s counterproductive. It’s soul-destroying and, worse from a business view, engagement-destroying and innovation-destroying, yet it continues on.
More on the evolution of leadership next time.