Twenty years ago, no one talked about leadership-starved companies. The governing assumption throughout the 20th century was that leadership was an organizational role that a person was hired to perform. The role was one of influence, decision-making and representation of the company in the public sphere.
We are now in a transition that is changing how we perceive the functioning of organizations. It is a time of opportunity to create the organizational models for the next century. In order to do this, we must address our perception of what leadership means as we make our transition from the past into the future.
3 Essentials That Sustain Healthy Companies
When I use the term leadership-starved, I am looking at how a body sustains its health as a metaphor for how a company sustains its health. Leaders have this nourishing function. What are the nutrients that leaders develop to feed a healthy organization? There are three that are essential. Belief, trust, and alignment.
Belief nourishes human purpose. When a person believes in the why of a company, they rarely feel compromised in their willingness to give their best.
Belief is the result of more than a well-crafted corporate purpose statement. When a company’s purpose matches its social culture, people will speak about the authenticity of the company. It is a reason why people seek out a company instead of its competitors as a place of employment.
Belief, therefore, nourishes a sense of belonging to something meaningful that is larger than ourselves. This belief is not simply in the company, but of our value and contribution to it. It provides us the motivation to take leadership initiative to make a difference that matters.
Trust is a measure of the respect that exists in a relationship. I wrote about the importance of trust in my post, How Companies Build Trust.* What does the nourishment of trust do for us? There is twin benefit like the two sides of a coin.
Trust nourishes a sense of safety in the workplace. We are willing to accept some risk and vulnerability because we trust the people with whom we work. This kind of trust isn’t an accident that just appears out of nowhere. Trust is a product of intentionality and vigilance in preserving the conditions of respect and acceptance between people.
If trust nourishes a sense of safety, it also nourishes a sense of ambition. When we trust one another, we are willing to place our welfare into one another’s hands. Trust can lead to courage and daring as new ventures are envisioned and executed.
Without trust, fear can creep into the culture of the company. When this happens, the fear of making the wrong decision makes it more likely that an opportunity will pass.
Trust is principally a social, rather than a personal phenomenon. We experience it personally, but it exists between people as the social environment of an organization. Combining trust with belief creates a powerful mix of optimism and commitment to achieve the best possible outcome.
Companies often fail to sustain trust because it gets lost in the chaos of running a company. It isn’t a high priority because the business of business is business.
Soft skills are often misunderstood as being less essential to a positive bottom line. My experience is the opposite.
Where trust exists, higher levels of performance can be found. This isn’t something we are taught in school. It is something that we acquire from practice and a healthy self-awareness.
Alignment creates wholeness within the structure of the business. By making these connections evident, people gain a clear sense of their place within that structure. It is here that the shift from a single leader and many followers to a leader-rich organization can be achieved.
The alignment that I am referring to is that of the three dimensions of leadership – ideas, relationships and organizational structure. The integration of these three dimensions means that there is a common idea which binds them together. This idea is identified as the impact that the company seeks to create.
When each person and each department of a company can state the impact that their individual contributions seek to achieve, then a wholeness is nourished. We become a unified whole when alignment is nourished.
Healthy Companies Maintain This Leader-Rich Diet
If these are the nutrients of a healthy company, then how do we feed the company so that it is nourished?
A company is not like a family, where there is a parent or two, who take care of the children. This may have been the way companies in the past were structured, with a few leaders and many followers.
Yet, a healthy company is like a family when the members mutually care for one another. The nourishment is mutually offered and shared. This is how a company becomes a leader-rich one, where each person finds the freedom to take personal initiative to create impact that makes a difference that matters.
Twilio CEO and co-founder Jeff Lawson discovered this when the company’s well-crafted values statement could not be remembered by his staff. Jeff changed his approach and it changed his company.
Belief, trust, and alignment are not just concepts to be discussed. They are how people find their place in complex social settings, like a business.
A leadership-starved company is not primarily because of any inadequacy in the leadership capabilities of a company’s top management. Instead it about the leadership capacity of an organization as a whole.
That capacity is measured in the potential impact that can be created. If the people of the organization do not believe that their contributions really matter, then their willingness to take the initiative to make a difference will be low.
The key, therefore, is to build a culture of belief, trust, and alignment that provides a foundation for everyone to be motivated to give their best.
Taking these steps and become a leader-rich company does more than just elevate the potential benefit of people. It begins the journey that reveals what the future will look like, placing the company and its people at the forefront of leadership in their industry and community.