TIME TO GET OUT OF THE WAY
AND ALLOW TRANSFORMATION?
General George S. Patton once said, “Lead me, follow me or get out of the way.” More than 50 years later, that famous quote takes on new meaning as we transform the way that modern workers both lead and follow.
If we look at the world of business today, we need to ask if it’s time for a new way of thinking about how we manage. It’s not a question of are we managing or leading. It’s a question of if we are being transformational in a transformational time. We are at war, our financial system is a mess, Congress gets nothing done and our political leaders’ strategy is to blame and block. It’s a struggle to think about the future.
In 1985, Bernard Bass set forth a new language of leading that went beyond traditional thinking about managing in a contemporary time. His model of leadership was more about moving people beyond their own needs, and elevated the follower through ideals, personal achievement and well-being. It was about leading through the cooperation of different people with different ideas. Yet, many of our leaders today are still stuck in competing through divisive ideology and the bottom line at all costs. However, while leaders are not changing their approach to leading, people are craving a different approach.
Today, our well-educated, talented workforce embraces continuous learning, job empowerment and a sense of professionalism, at all levels. Surprisingly enough, General Patton would be happy to know that the best example I can give involves our armed services. While we may conceptualize our military as a pyramid of policy, in fact each soldier is a well-trained, empowered professional. While they work in a larger system, they all work exceptionally well in small teams and as individuals. Why does this work? It works because what binds them is what Bass called “inspirational appeal” and fulfillment. They are motivated by their mission, but more importantly, by an intense sense of pride, commitment and honor. These concepts are the glue to do extraordinary things in extraordinary circumstances. These concepts link people together to do something together.
The Future of Everything panel agreed that contemporary transformational management practices work. Management today is about people being linked to a larger purpose combined with a balance of community and personal well-being. However, they were quick to point out that it is also about productivity and results. Balance needs to be maintained between the competing values of production, community and employee fulfillment. If we sacrifice people for the sake of production, and vice versa, we fail in the long run.
When I teach graduate students, I make them write a paper about their leadership trajectory. I speculate that they don’t see themselves fitting into a world with so many competing values and with organizations that want them to only follow. They don’t want to just follow, they want to be part of the solution, but fail to see where they fit in. They are trained to think and collaborate, but don’t conceptualize they will have the chance to do that. What is their hope? What is a returning soldier’s hope?
As our students graduate and our troops come home from the war, they will fold into our organizations as the most contemporary workers available. They know how to work in teams, they are conceptual and they believe in a cause. They will be seeking organizations that provide structure, while at the same time the opportunity to work in teams and lead. They will bind our teams together, be exceedingly productive and shape our productive future world, if we let them. But, if we don’t balance the needs of our organization (to produce) with the needs of all workers (to be fulfilled), we will miss the next opportunity to realize political, economic and business growth. It may be time for us to get out of the way and let a new generation of leaders find their place. If we don’t, we may be stuck in a cycle of divisiveness, and nothing will get done. Perhaps it is time we lead, follow or get out of the way.
Under the direction of Bedford, NH-based executive leadership coaching firm Sojourn Partners, The Future of Everything Project brings together panels of thought leaders from diverse backgrounds to brainstorm, collaborate and proactively craft a vision of “what can be.” Project participants on this topic included Rick Gallin, HR Director at Veeco Solar, Morgan Smith, Director of Organizational Development at Catholic Medical Center and Fran Allain, Employee Retention Manager for the NH Division of Economic Development.
Dr. Russ Ouellette is the managing partner of Sojourn Partners, a Bedford-based executive leadership coaching firm. He can be reached at (603) 472-8103 or email@example.com. He can also be twittered @RussOuellette or Facebooked – Sojourn Partners.