The way we work is changing, and with that we need to change the way we talk about the role of a leader. The way teams are organised, work is allocated, and people are employed has changed, but the way we talk about leaders hasn't.
The way work is changing has, in some ways, been hiding in plain sight. At The H Factor, we work from a co-working space - that's our office in the picture above. We're part of a community with hundreds of other members, most of whom are independent small and micro businesses. The building used to be the Perth office of the Reserve Bank of Australia - all 9 floors of it.
Another co-working space recently opened up with 7 floors in Perth's tallest building. These buildings were once the domain of some of society's biggest corporate and government institutions. As those institutions have downsized, centralised, automated, or even completely disappeared in some cases, then the spaces that were once symbols of their strength have become a refreshing symbol of the changing way we work. Some of those large institutions themselves now have people working from such co-working spaces.
The office towers might look the same from the street level, but inside them a quiet revolution has taken place. Co-working is just one example of how work is changing. People also work from home, from their smart-phones, and over the Internet.
There's also the sharing economy where the traditional classification of employer and employee is complicated. As well, many professional roles are now carried out on a contract basis, rather than in the conventional permanent employer/employee relationship.
There is a common thread to all of these changes.
Organisations are seeking ways of working that encourage greater alignment of behaviours and interactions to their business outcomes.
At the same time, people have greater expectations of their work being meaningfully aligned to their own conscience with regards to ethical, social, and cultural issues.
These changes are not so much about what people do, but are more about how people are allocated their activities, collaborate with others, and deliver their outcomes. People have greater capacity to negotiate their outcomes than ever before - and that is a good thing.
These changes have not really happened overnight, even though it might sometimes feel that way. They've taken place over a number of years, and gathered momentum with changes in technology, employment law, offshoring, and outsourcing.
Despite all of this, something hasn't changed much, and that is the way we see the role of a leader.
Typically once a person reaches a certain level, then their organisation will send them off to be trained on the skills of leadership and people management. Managers then bring those skills back to the workplace. It is assumed that if they are not successful then it must be because either they didn't learn the skills, or they can't apply them.
There is something wrong with this model. People are supposed to come back from training and become a leadership guru, dammit!
Imagine if we employed engineers on the same basis. Most of us don't think about who the engineer was when we cross a bridge. We rightly expect that a qualified engineer will have had the necessary processes and used appropriate systems to properly do their job.
It should be the same for people management. The role of the leader should be to apply their skills using effective and reliable systems and processes in the business that enable consistent and reliable people management. As we find ever more creative ways to allocate work and organise teams, this becomes ever more important.
With an effective people management system the leader can apply their skills to ensure that the team strategy is appropriate for the external environment, and that the resourcing is sufficient to achieve it.
Instead, we talk about good leaders or bad leaders. We put the emphasis on the person, and ignore the effectiveness of the systems that a person has to help them use their leadership skill.
For sure, managing people is a learned skill, just like engineering or accounting, that is based on a growing and evolving body of knowledge. Just like those skills, an organisation must have effective tools available so that practitioners can productively and consistently apply their knowledge.
So, Change Agents, are you working on the people management system in your business? Or are you still focused on an ego-centric approach?
Gurus are cool, but they're hard to find, and it is very rare to build a sustainable organisation around them.
Let's change the conversation about leadership from being about the things that make a leader good or bad, and shift the focus to being about the reliability of the processes that enable people in the organisation to make productive decisions about their actions, interactions, and behaviours - no matter how they are employed, where they work from, or who their manager is!