All About Pyramids, Pancakes, and Evolutionary Purpose


Megaphone leadership from the top is out.

That’s the conclusion of a recent crop of business books profiling new-generation organisations, where self-managing employees strive for wholeness and evolutionary purpose in complex systems that work largely by themselves.

Rivalling the dedication and self-regulating skill of honey-gathering bees, engaged employees manage themselves by harvesting collective intelligence, without being hectored needlessly from above. Sometimes there’s no strategy, no target and even no budget in this pyramid-turned-pancake world.

Does happy at the top = unhappy  down below?

Is time running out for this well tested leadership model?

So when it comes to communication by management, any “Charm Offensive” by management would sound … just offensive.

If you look at the graphic above you’ll see exactly why. Each happy person is  destined to make someone unhappy, as well as passing downwards his or her own happiness. The bottom line is more unhapy  faces than happy ones – showing why top-down messaging can be counter-productive.

So instead of playing God, managers are now invited to listen and just see what emerges.

Read the case studies in Frederic Laloux’s now red-hot business book Reinventing Organizations and you’ll learn that pyramidal hierarchies are gone, as too are the old trio of vision, strategy and execution. Purpose is the central intention, and once this is clear, employees will surely “show up in the full glory of their humanity.”

Now it looks more  like this: Foto Wikimedia by jeffreyw

New and tastier leadership model: Foto Wikimedia by jeffreyw

Take it or leave it, but Laloux believes a new paradigm for social organisation is emerging, as evidenced by a handful of companies where the management suite operates more like a suggestion box. His cases include Patagonia, BSO/Origin, AES and Dutch healthcare enterprise Buurtzorg. He takes “radical” as far as inviting buyers of his e-book to “pay what feels right.”

Likewise Clive Wilson’s insightful new book ‘Designing the Purposeful Organization – inspiring performance beyond boundaries’ emphasizes the shared sense of learning that characterizes successful companies. Like Laloux, he concludes that success is very different from results. Less radical perhaps than Laloux, Wilson maintains that achieving powerful results still depends on measuring key variables, including culture and vision.

Laloux may advocate emotional and spiritual wholeness in the workplace, and declare “you need structure but you don’t need a boss.” Nevertheless, managers are hardly going the way of the Dodo just yet. Nor are they expected to be silent.

Read a little closer and you’ll see this valued process of creating alignment around systems that can be complex without being hierarchical, still depends on regular conversations about what success means, about sharing, and above all about stories that build on and celebrate success.

Without authentic stories, none of this will work. Nowadays, employees won’t listen just because they have to. They’ll only listen if what they hear is trustworthy because for too long, happy at  the top has meant unhappy  down below – as in the ‘smiley chart’ at the top of this entry.

Being at the top gives no automatic right to a hearing.

Being at the top gives no automatic right to a hearing.

In other words, the leadership communication function remains alive and well in the new paradigm. Let’s just say it’s more about “talking with” than “talking at,” and intelligent listening. A new kind of workplace conversation is starting.

So how will a new generation of managers make this transition from hierarchical status to giving and receiving advice? In a world where employees already know what to do and actively contribute to improving systems, managers will need to focus on developing a new and effective communications style if they’re to add value.

It’s not that the familiar topics of the management “pep-talk” delivered at offsites or away-days – vision and belief, purpose or mission, and cooperation – have gone away. They’ve just morphed away from being add-ons to the strategy slide-deck into the less visible business of building rapport and consolidating trust. Bosses can’t tell employees what their mission is – they are already busy co-creating it.

Communications skills must be built into everything.

That’s why we believe that heightened awareness of the mechanisms driving interpersonal communications and how to map them, adds value for in a world where managers – like emperors – will wish to avoid being seen without clothes.

Knowing  one’s personal strengths in fields such as Empathy, Collaboration, Vision and Values, could be crucial. So too will ability to utilize the persona linked to small-group communication styles of the Coach or Negotiator.

Engaging leader profile

Traditional leader profile

Communicate Charisma is a methodology to raise self-awareness of the communicative attributes we all naturally possess, and to help individuals build on their strengths to increase the rapport they have with others. In the future drawn by Laloux, managers will need to communicate in ways that are both non-hierarchical and authentic.

Communicate Charisma's clockface of nine Avatars

Communicate Charisma’s clockface of nine Avatars

We believe Communicate Charisma and its training programmes will help equip a new generation of managers who will lead not from the top of the pyramid, but by means of everyday interactions that engage, empathize and persuade.

At Communicate Charisma we teach people how to become more engaging and effective communicators. In our Charisma Dimensions workshops, we use practical exercises coupled with our bespoke self-awareness tools to allow participants to understand and experience the impact of individual personality traits on how we are perceived by others. Together, we use these insights to develop a more effective and authentic personal style, and so raise our power of influence and communications mastery.

Find out more about our workshops.

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