Image courtesy of http://discoveryisms.wikispaces.com.
In my last blog post here and an article I wrote shortly after for iCroner, “Journey of Leadership in the Workplace”, I articulated my thoughts and theories on how leadership has changed in the workplace. Lately I have been reading and reflecting on this, and also on the wider picture of influences on leadership styles, and started to wonder – how much does an organisation allow us to be individual leaders? How does an organisation encourage certain types of leadership style?
A contact (who used to be a professional dancer, like myself) posted on Facebook recently that a dance performance by GroupoCorpo was really innovative and very different. I was intrigued and watched a clip of the performance, and was underwhelmed to say the least. The dancers were mostly all synchronised, as in most group ballets or modern dance routines; the only “dynamic”, in my opinion, was the costumes. They were black and white unitards and the colours were divided down the middle of each person – one side of their body white and the other black. Now, I would say this gives an interesting look, but innovative?
This started to get me thinking – relating the dance to an organisation, and considering the level of freedom we have as managers and leaders to express our own leadership styles, what does this mean? Do we look for synchronicity and uniformity in leaders?
Many organisations use performance management tools for staff that aim to define behaviours that are desirable and encouraged, including “leadership”. Many organisations feel this is necessary in order to foster “right” behaviours and discourage “wrong” behaviours. In principle, this all seems fine, but what defines right? And can we define, for example, the behaviour “to be innovative”? Surely, in many ways, this is subjective, and if this is the case, how do we then measure it? These are questions that HR practitioners have been asking for a number of years, and the only real answer is to define it within the context of the organisation and its vision, and define innovation based on that context. But this is likely to impact on leadership styles and the freedom to express ourselves – if we are all to be defined by the context of the organisation and be uniformed in our approach, then we are perhaps stifling the innovation and talent we, as organisations, are desperate to retain and hire.
But what happens if someone is “different”, as this can be seen as wrong and needing correcting – in order to be seen as “good leaders” within an organisation, do we need to become like actors and only “show” the expressions and leadership of what is required for that particular organisation? I would argue that this is not the solution, and heard a similar position discussed at a lunchtime debate I attended recently, sponsored by HR Magazine. The panellists raised the point that staff want their leaders to be “human”, also referred to as “authentic” and, in the States, “holistic” leadership. Whichever term you use, it seems to me that people want leaders who they feel are “real” – someone they feel comfortable talking to rather than someone who makes them feel like they need to watch their “p’s and q’s” constantly.
One of the most common recruitment questions currently being asked is, “How do you add value?”, which implies an acceptance and even desire of individuality from future (and hence one would assume also current) employees. But is this what organisations genuinely look for and reward – difference and individuality in their leaders – or do they really want uniformity? It seems that there is a trend for people within the organisations wanting individuality but organisations as a whole lacking support for it, so it may be that they need to make some dramatic changes to their processes and systems to accommodate and attract real, innovative talent.
Jennifer Bryan is an independent consultant who collaborates with AECOM’s Consultancy practice.