We still find the authoritarian approach alive and kicking (people down) in many schools, businesses and governments. For those who use it, the belief that it is the only way is dogma, in spite of it’s questionable effectiveness. There are still teachers, managers and presidents who think they assert control through fear.
It is not that they are making a rational choice to control others. They have not evaluated the options of inspiration vs fear and decided that fear is the one for them. It is that they are unaware of the choice. As we might expect, this view is born from their own experience and conditioning, authoritarian values were “normal” to them, so even when they witness a different form of leadership they are unable to interpret it as leadership. They may even interpret it as weakness.
With my friend and colleague Helen Duguid, I ran a “Challenger Mindset” workshop last week for a part of Kraft Foods. It was a large group and their approach was very much “beyond control”, there were four equal leaders of this team in the room and all took inspiration not control as their starting point.
The results provide a fascinating contrast to a control based way of thinking:
- Responsibility is distributed, so the leaders are not overstretched, as many more authoritarian leaders are, and have the time and mental energy both to enjoy themselves and to think strategically.
- Quality control is distributed and subject to continuous peer review, doing great work is a matter of personal pride for the whole team.
- Motivation, passion and commitment are endemic in the whole team, it is not up to the leadership to keep people motivated and engaged, they already are. The role of the leaders is to create the optimal space, strategically and culturally for people to flourish.
- The whole team feel an intense sense of ownership of and pride in their culture, strategy and results – and the results are outstanding.
This is what the world looks like beyond control. It is not a world of anarchy, it is a world of energy, creativity and fun.
However – there are some preconditions:
- People need to be capable and intelligent.
- Expectations of performance and behaviour need to be clearly set – you cannot just expect people to know what to do, even good ones.
- Good support and training needs to be provided, and if anyone is unable to flourish under these conditions they need to move on, and quickly.
Shifting from an authoritarian culture to a self managed culture is not easy. Many people like the lack of responsibility that comes with an authoritarian leader. All you have to do is what you are told – there is no need to think. The complaint I get from authoritarian leaders is that they feel overstretched because they have to take all of the responsibility and that no one else does. The irony is that they have often created that culture themselves, by treating people like children.
Once people are used to being treated this way, it is hard to get them to feel that sense of ownership, but it is usually far harder for the authoritarian leaders to let go of the illusion of control and to trust people.
The approach is to collectively create a clear framework of values, behaviours, vision, purpose and objectives that the whole team owns. At the same time there needs to be a sense of honesty, so if you are shifting from an authoritarian model, there will need to be some sort of “truth and reconciliation” process.
The leaders must absolutely model the new culture with consistency and humility and they must persist, culture change can take a long time. Behaviours and achievements that are aligned with the new culture must be recognised and/or rewarded. Behaviours and especially achievements, that are out of line with the culture MUST be called out.
Achieving targets by cutting corners is like an athlete winning by taking performance enhancing drugs. It is cheating and while it might create short term results, long term it is corrosive for all involved and the price will have to be paid at some point.
As part of the Kraft workshop I made some posters of inspiring quotes featuring Steve Jobs, Lady Gaga, Richard Branson, Sir Henry Royce and Gandhi. You can download these from my website – just click on the “free” link at www.neilcrofts.com. They are good enough quality to print at A2.
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