When people solve their own problems, they also gain skills in communication, collaboration, and innovation. All are leadership skills that everyone needs to acquire regardless of the position that they have in the organization. What, then, is the impact of this approach to leadership. In simple terms, it moves an organization from being leadership starved to being leader-rich. More definitively, it decentralizes the capacity of an organization to solve its problems. I saw this effect in an organization that I served many years ago. Small problems flowed up through the hierarchy to the vice-president’s desk. By then a problem had turned into an issue between the company and the union. When the company implemented a program to train and support all their employees in practicing these leadership skills, the trust level in the company grew, ultimately gaining the awareness of Forbes magazine in their annual list of most trustworthy companies. This is the potential that results from elevating the leadership capacity of people.
In order to understand who we are, we need to understand the culture that we live in. Over the past three or four generations, we have transitioned from a culture where we were subjects to powerful institutions to where we became captives to a culture focused on consumer products. And now, we are on the cusp of a third cultural transition. The following selection is from my short book, Seeing Below the Surface: The Brokenness of Modern Organizations.
In September 2018, after Circle of Impact was published, I hit the road to promote sales of the book. I spent the next year talking to people standing in bookstores, sitting at bars, in laundromats, parking lots, and hotel lobbies. These conversations went something like this.
“Oh, so you are the author of this book?”
“What’s your book about?”
“It is a book for people and organizations that are in transition.”
Then they would give me a surprised look and say, “Oh. … Well. … That describes me.”
Then a conversation would happen where they would tell me a story about who they are, their life experience, and why they felt they were in transition.
I found that people first feel that they are in transition. But they lack a way to talk about it. This feeling rises deep from within themselves. This is especially true if they have either worked in an environment described above where they are simply hired to perform specific tasks or have been out of the workforce for a while taking care of family needs, whether children or elderly parents.
Of all the ways that I could describe the book, speaking about transition resonated most significantly with people. This isn’t just personal. It is also something happening to our society, our communities, and every organization within it. It is a global reality felt at the most intimate level of our lives. It is also clear that some people are better suited or prepared to make transitions in their lives, while for others it is a very tough, hard experience.