I can’t remember the last time that I participated on a blog carnival or meme blog series for that matter. I guess it’s been far too long, so when my good friend Cecil Dijoux launched a meme invitation to a group of us around #LeadWithRespect : a Challenge for 21st Century Management, based on a recent blog post he published upon embarking himself on reading the book “Lead With Respect” by Freddy and Michael Ballé (Already got my Kindle copy, by the way, although I haven’t gotten started with it just yet…), I just couldn’t help diving in and see where it would take us all being part of those conversations. After all, what could possibly go even more wrong with Leadership (and Management, in general) as it is today, perhaps one of the most profound, deeply routed and unprecedented management and leadership crisis in our entire recorded human history. I guess the only way is up, right?
I asked Cecil through Twitter whether we would, eventually, need to read the book before participating on the meme invitation and he confirmed that was not the case. He’s still reading it himself further along, but just wanted to get some dialogue going and seeing the list of invitees I am sensing it could be quite something! A true privilege for yours truly, for certain, to be sharing my two cents when you see such notable and well-respected names such as these folks:
Essentially, the meme invitation is all about providing some specific answers to the various “seminal leadership questions” that the book is trying to answer as well. To name:
“[…] what is it to lead with respect ? What does it mean to show respect to employees ? Are there any related practices that can be applied in different context and yet bringing encouraging results ? Is it necessary for a 21st century leader to respect her employees in order to achieve success ? What are the costs of not respecting employees ? What is the relationship between leading with respect and setting a culture of continuous improvement ?”
So I thought I would get started with the meme by perhaps sharing some quick entry points to each of those questions based on thoughts that have been in my mind for a good while now. I know there will be a lot more to write down and share along on the topic, and I am sure we will all continue to cover this area for a good while with additional blog posts. Both leadership and management are two topics that I have always found really fascinating and which I think are right at the heart of the matter as to why vast majority of today’s knowledge workers are (totally) disengaged at work. You know how it works, if both your managers and leaders are disengaged at work, which they are, and very much so!, so will the employees they manage, even to the point of their own customers. If we are to define the overall client experience around the employee experience we would first need to help identify what the new role of management / leadership should be like, because the current model, and for obvious reasons, cannot be even more broken than what it is at the moment.
By all means, this article does not intend to address nor fix all of the various different problems and business issues with management / leadership overall. This article will just attempt to share some pointers to ideas, thoughts, and experiences that could help re-define that overall role of management and where would it fit in the Social Era of the Connected Company. An Open Business.
What is it to lead with respect?
To me, it’s all about trust. There is a great chance that if you trust someone you would respect someone. And in order to do that you would need to know them, in order to know them you would need to find out what they know, what they share, who they share it with, how they feel about things, what they are truly passionate about and so forth. Eventually, what drives them and motivates them to come to work every day by essentially offering the opportunity to demonstrate their thought leadership day in day out, which is essentially why they were hired for in the first place.
That’s where management and leadership come in. Lead with respect means that we need to leave behind that paternalistic approach from management of not trusting their employees by default, no matter what, therefore not showing much respect, because they know better than those same knowledge workers. After all, remember, they are making all of the decisions for them. They take all the risks for them all the time as well. They set the overall strategy of how the business will be run, right from the trenches to all the way to the top. For those managers, their competitive advantage has always been “knowledge is power” and why they have managed to cling to it all along with no remedy, because that has always been the status quo of how things operate at work. And you just need to keep quiet.
But we should not forget they also take their pay, their big fat bonuses, and a certain status and power that, if anything, has got the opposite effect of showing that respect and trustworthy mindset of who you work with. Understanding that if you relinquish all of your knowledge and expertise you are eventually enabling your workforce to excel even more at what they already do a decent job for. But, you see? That’s not going to happen that easily, because that’s just the beginning of the road towards respecting your employee workforce, i.e. to not only help them do their jobs more effectively, and therefore becoming the Chief Obstacle Remover, but also to treat them as what they are: people, human beings, who, after all, are looking to strike both (business) results and (personal business) relationships. That’s the moment when you, as a manager, get to lose control, if you ever had it, because, if anything, control has always been an illusion and will remain so for many decades to come. Time to wake up to reality.
What does it mean to show respect to employees?
It essentially means that managers and leaders are finally understanding the transformation provoked by these emerging digital tools where we are transitioning from a business world run under the mantra of the scarcity of knowledge stocks into the abundance of knowledge flows (as John Hagel coined back in the day) therefore embracing the motto of “knowledge SHARED is power”, where eventually knowledge workers are now more exposed to timely information, resources AND people to make better decisions without having to go every single time through their management chain in order to do their job. Biggest ah-ha moment about showing that respect to employees is for managers to, at long last, embrace the notion that they are no longer the smartest people in the room. That out there, amongst their own employee workforce, there are bound to be dozens and dozens of really smart, talented, amazing and brilliant people who are doing excellent jobs that they were never credited for.
Once you realise you are no longer the smartest person in the room, you are just on the brink of entering that new model of self-management around social networks that Jon Husband coined back in the day as Wirearchy and that certainly defines the workplace of the future in a direction away from a hierarchical, paternalistic, command and control, micromanaging driven mentality that has caused, if anything, more harm than benefit. Showing respect to employees essentially means you realise you are also one of them. One of the nodes in the network. The challenge then becomes how well connected you may well be in the network based on the trust and respect for others you may have shown over the course of time. The transition is clear. Knowledge and expertise become redundant, if you are no longer connected to the rest of the network. And that’s where respect shines, as you will have to earn the merit from each and everyone of them every single day of every month. Every year. Forever.
Are there any related practices that can be applied in different context and yet bringing encouraging results?
I am sure there are plenty of them out there. In fact, it’s probably one of the hottest topics at the moment in the field of Management and Leadership in terms of redefining their role in the Knowledge Economy of the 21st century. One of my favourite books on the topic (Although there are certain ideas I still don’t buy just yet) is that one from Frederic Laloux around Reinventing Organisations which is a must-read in terms of helping identify what the future organisation would be like starting off today.
For a good while though I have been pondering and musing about a particular framework that I think could be applied in different contexts but that would also bring up some excellent and encouraging results in terms of that transformation both leadership and management need to go through. It’s what I call the L.A.F. Framework, which essentially consists of 3 key basic elements that would help management and leadership understand their new role in the Social Era. To name:
- Listen: If you would ask me, nowadays we seem to be doing a rather poor job at listening to others, in fact, active listening, or listening with intent, is hard to find at this current time whether in the business world or in our society in general. However, if we would all just shut up and listen plenty more we would all realise how refreshing and liberating hearing other people’s thoughts and opinions could well be in order for us to make better decisions based on the new knowledge we would constantly get exposed to, acquire and put to good use collectively.
- Act: This is where action comes into place, because after having done a few rounds of active listening, gathering input, networking, sharing and collaborating more effectively with our peers while getting work done, managers would have a great opportunity to show they care for their employees by acting upon the input they are receiving from them as a result of those listening activities.
- Feed Back: And, finally, this is where respect will come through and shine further along, because after having done that listening exercise, after having acted upon accordingly addressing those potential business opportunities or challenges, it’s now a good time to feed back to your networks on what you have done with those other previous activities in order to bring forward those encouraging results.
This is where the vast majority of management and leadership fail rather drastically today. More than anything else because of that paternalistic sense of not having to report to anyone on what they do, never mind their own employees. After all, who are they, right? Remember, I don’t trust them. I call the shots, I make the decisions, I take the risks. They just execute my orders. Yet, feeding back to them, closing the circle, having a bloody good conversation on what you learn, what you did with it and what the impact may well be, is just probably as good as it gets in terms of leading with respect. Why? Because you are starting to fully understand that notion the L.A.F. framework just makes you an equal to everyone else. You are then part of the trusted network where magic just happens.
Is it necessary for a 21st century leader to respect her employees in order to achieve success ? What are the costs of not respecting employees?
I think these two questions are very much related and in a way I have already hinted what my answers would be like for both of them. A leader who doesn’t respect their employees should not, and cannot!, expect to have their employees respect them in any way possible. That may well have been the situation for a good number of decades, but it does no longer work anymore in today’s business environment. If anything, I am more and more convinced by the day that every single organisation should feel privileged to have the honour and great pleasure of employing the amazing talent they have hired in the first place. If you look into it, businesses are just renting out knowledge workers’ free time to do their work, to let their passion and motivation shine through. To delight their customers, so the least they should do is respect them and trust they would do a good job, because I can guarantee you they will. Otherwise they wouldn’t be working with you.
I have been saying this for a very very long time. If you keep treating your people as sheep, I can vouch they would eventually behave as sheep. Now, when was the last time that a sheep respected or trusted you again? However, if you treat your employees as what you hired them for in the first place, i.e. hard working professionals truly committed and motivated for excelling at a job they are passionate about, I can guarantee you they would behave as such, they would respect you and they would honour the treat of working together with you as equals, as nodes of the same network, doing what they know best: delighting your (AND their!) clients.
The reality though is that is not the case, as can be seen from recent research studies, like Gallup’s, around employee engagement, where, currently, around 13% of today’s global employee workforce is engaged at work, while the other 87% isn’t. That, put into plain English, essentially means that today’s business world, and perhaps also our society, is currently being supported by 1/10 of the total employee / citizen population and if that is not a huge, massive, business / societal problem, I don’t what is.
[I know, I know, I am a broken record on this one, and have been for a while and will continue to be for many moons to come!, but, seriously, anyone who still doesn’t see a correlation of today’s totally disengaged employee workforce with the ill-practices from management and leadership should probably have a deeper look into it, before it’s just too late]
What is the relationship between leading with respect and setting a culture of continuous improvement?
Frankly, that’s a very simple one. It always has been. Wirearchy. Again. To quote:
“A dynamic two-way flow of power and authority, based on knowledge, trust, credibility and a focus on results, enabled by interconnected people and technology”
Or expressed in other words, coined as well by Jon Husband:
“is about the power and effectiveness of people working together through connection and collaboration … taking responsibility individually and collectively rather than relying on traditional hierarchical status”
If you ask me, that’s where I see both management and leadership thrive in the 21st century. Not necessarily in the traditional hierarchical, top down, command and control, paternalistic mentality of “I think, you execute, no questions allowed”, but more in the wirearchical model of (social) networks, where merit, recognition, democratic decision making, open knowledge sharing, transparency, collaboration, engagement, honesty, authenticity, autonomy, empathy, trust, respect, caring, responsibility, accountability, purpose and true meaning become the norm, more than an exception, in wanting to make a dent in this universe, beyond just merely getting your work done.
Yes, indeed, you, as the new connected, respected and trusted leader(s). Thriving, as always, through networks. Your networks!
Forget about everything else. It’s no longer worth the effort, the energy, nor the attention it’s had in the last few decades.
It’s now probably a good time to do something more meaningful and everlasting: humanise work, once and for all.
Written by Luis Suarez
Chief Emergineer and People Enabler. A well seasoned Social / Open Business evangelist and 2.0 practitioner with over 15 years of experience on knowledge management, collaboration, learning, online communities and social networking for business; and has been living, since February 2008, a (work) life without email challenging the status quo of how knowledge workers collaborate and share their knowledge by promoting openness, transparency, trust, sustainable growth, engagement, connectedness and overall smart work. He can also be contacted over in Twitter at @elsua or Google Plus.