The best in one’s field is not necessarily a good leader. The quality of a leader depends on other factors. If someone leads many people just because the position entails it, he creates individual and collective damage.
Published in KMU Magazin Nr. 4/5, Mai 2019
New forms of cooperation are being tested, introduced and implemented all over the country. Fine-sounding terms such as holocracy, self-organisation or NewWork are fuelling the fantasy that the world of work will soon manage without leadership. But the opposite will happen: What is needed is not less leadership, but a different kind of leadership. And now the bad habit of promoting the best in a subject to become the boss in that subject is taking its revenge. If we don’t enjoy a task, if it doesn’t appeal to us, if it doesn’t challenge us, if it doesn’t make us antsy, then we will never really do it well and with commitment. Such tasks slip lower and lower on the to-do list. Then important staff meetings are postponed, new strategic directions are communicated superficially, little value is placed on integration and the development of potential is left to human resources.
Not only do decency, respect and appreciation towards employees suffer, but this behaviour is perpetuated in the system. On the one hand, by the leaders themselves, simply because they get away with it. On the other hand, by the employees who, with such experience, move up into the management ranks. They will most likely behave in the same way, because they have been able to observe it before. And so a company climate is created that does not promote qualitative company development, but rather initiates the descent into a bitter price war, because innovations are missing and opportunities are not recognised and used. That is why companies should deal with leadership and the tasks associated with it, as well as the selection of suitable employees. As a whole, they shape the climate that is conducive to further development.
For decades, we in companies have completely misunderstood the central task of employee leadership and also trained and positioned it incorrectly. The fact that someone wants to lead others was taken for granted, and so over time an extremely fateful connection has arisen in society: The importance of a career was measured by the number of people led, i.e. the number of people who work “under you”, for whom you are “responsible”, for whom you have to “take care”. The more, the more important. But if someone leads many people just because the position entails it, but constantly avoids the leadership task, then he creates individual and collective damage. And who pays for this damage? First of all, the leader him/herself, because he/she inevitably pushes in front of him/herself a bow wave of overdue discussions, weakened cooperation or insufficient integration. Then it’s the employees who pay, because their potential is not being fully exploited and further developed. Because only realised potential points to further potential. Then customers also pay, because they receive solutions later (or too late), because the manager acts as a bottleneck. Then the company pays because it fundamentally lacks innovative power. And finally, society pays because the image of leadership will shape future generations and diminish their anticipation of this task.
What needs to change
That’s why it’s high time today to take a closer look at employee management in companies. What might an approach look like? Well, the task of changing or strengthening the understanding of leadership is comparable to the task of promoting and strengthening climate protection. Both are phenomena that take place more on a meta-level. No one has ever “seen” climate and interacted with it. If we want to do climate protection (the why or wherefore), we have to agree on a few and plausible steps (the how). This is usually the easier part of the task. However, when it comes to the concrete implementation (the what), myriads of interests are brought into the field, which this implementation runs counter to and creates conflicts. And in endless political debates, minimal solutions are discussed that will have a negligible overall impact - despite a factual agreement on the meta-level.
It is similar with leadership: it is possible to reach agreement at a meta-level on what role leadership should play (the what for). There is then more divergence on the possible approaches (the how), which makes the choice more attractive and opens up space for experimentation. And when it finally comes to concrete activities (the what), the wildest discussions arise. Because in contrast to quantum physics, everyone can have a say in leadership. Yet most leaders keep saying that they have never been trained - and yet many consider themselves competent enough to decide how to lead, what works and what does not.
Employees demand change
Regardless of whether one is part of the group that accepts leadership as a by-product of one’s career or feels called to lead, one should probably question one’s previous understanding of the role and task of leadership. The basis on which one leads must be clarified. One’s own image of people should be examined and it should be noted what one wants to achieve as a leader and why this is helpful. Talking about this issue with colleagues and trying to broaden the discourse to the whole leadership team should be done. For the first time in modern history, employees are placing concrete (and high) expectations on leaders - not the other way around - and thereby setting the following two important impulses: First, leaders are confronted with the question of why and to what they actually lead and what specifically enables them to do so. And secondly, all those leaders are exposed who have taken care of themselves, won and defended their position through power games. They have to realise that the foundations for this are breaking away: Employees do not do everything for (even) more pay, their private life is at least as important to them as a career, they say what they think is not going well or what does not suit them. They bundle their influence and evaluate the company’s image as an employer (for example on Kununu), they link up with competitors (for example via LinkedIn) and they move in (virtual) reference groups to which they sometimes attach more importance (and loyalty) than to the company.
All of this has a significant impact on how leaders should shape their role and the focus they give to leadership in the organisation - namely, helping others to succeed. This is a valid, noble and forward-looking raison d’être for leadership.”
Read more in my book “Führen mit der T.I.G.E.R.-Methode”