Leadership for Tomorrow
Jonas Altman’s book, Shapers: Reinvent the Way You Work and Change Your Future crossed my desk and grabbed my attention. Resetting and rebalancing life and career is on many people’s minds during a pandemic.
His advice to adopt a mindset of growth, focus on what fulfills you, and embrace new modes of leadership is exactly what many people are looking for during this time of transition and change.
The new style of leadership is premised on trust, and the practice of management is now more art than science. Conscious leaders ask, “How can I help my teams to do their best work?” with the emphasis being on function, not status.
Jonas is a speaker, writer, entrepreneur, and the founder of design practice Social Fabric. I asked him to share more of his views.
You have a fascinating overview of how work evolved and is changing. Though we cannot cover all of it, what are a few major ways you see work shifting?
The old ways of working were premised on a model that was fit for a mechanistic world. The shift we are seeing is more fitting to the human age we live in now.
What this looks like is giving people more discretion over their experiences at work. This “Power of autonomy at work” means trusting people to choose when, where, and how they work. It’s vital for people to have a sense of agency so they do their best work.
We are witnessing the most progressive organizations operate as engines for learning. In this way, employees get paid for both their intellectual property and what it is they’ll need to know.
No longer is there paying lip service to personal and professional growth –it’s a sound retention and innovation strategy. Other ‘strategies’ that were once cosmetic, including diversity and inclusion, have been revealed to be both good for the bottom line and for human betterment.
And the inequality gap has been cracked further open, and we face an interesting watershed moment. We can continue as is with shareholder primacy, quality jobs for the few, gender inequality, massive disengagement at work, and the like. Or, we can move towards a new horizon.
This new vista could look like more platform cooperatives, companies that grow better not bigger, a collective effort to promote positive mental health in the workplace, more quality work for more people, improving systemic inequality at work, acknowledging emotional labor that all too often goes unrecognized and unpaid, and more. It means shedding the old work ethic in favor of a new ethic of work. And shapers, in the form of reasonable and resilient leaders, can help pave the way.
How has the pandemic added to this? How about its impact to work-life blend?
These past months have brought a heaviness that prompts us to look within, to inquire, re-examine, and potentially reset.
Since everything feels more acute, our awareness of a world constantly in flux is heightened. This presents wonderful opportunities for many and in the same breath, terrible outcomes for others. At time of writing, it’s predicted that OECD-wide unemployment will eclipse all values observed since the Great depression.
If we evaluate the current system of work – where there is not enough work for those in the bracket of willing and able to do so – exploring alternative ways to distribute quality work become essential.
With regards to those in the fortunate position to contemplate the work-life blend, the pandemic has accelerated this. While some have adjusted better as they move between grooming, zooming, and home-schooling, others have struggled, quietly grieving an old way of working where only the professional self was permitted into the office.
For those that suffer a kind of whiplash from this rapid change – the transition can provide a strategic pathway to a new and better way of work. It won’t be easy by any means.
For starters, healthy habits and boundaries can be practiced when there is less of a need to tread to and from and be ‘present’ in the proverbial office. Secondly, a boss who is accustomed to wielding authority by being visible in 3D can now see that there are other ways and means to lead in 2D – using technology as a tool and empowering teams with a more outcomes-driven style of managing. And lastly, with the room we’ve been given for more reflection – there’s a an invitation to be more sensitive towards colleagues, scrutinize our systems more, and experiment with work in such a way that it provides momentum – propelling us towards a preferable future.
For those who have not yet read your book, what is a shaper?
A shaper is someone who sees work as a practice. A job is not something you have, and work is not necessarily somewhere you go – it’s all about the journey. Looked at this way, shapers feel a deep connection to what they do and get energised by their work. They continually find creative ways to express themselves.
And shapers, “Lead deeper and more fulfilling lives because what they do every day serves them and the greater good.”
5 Leadership Modes for Team Success
You talk about five leadership modes (teacher, learner, mobilizer, giver, and coach) that are all based on trust. Would you share more about these?
These five modes are not meant to be employed in isolation. They are ‘new’ because traditionally, they’re not how leaders lead. Control styles of management yield conformity and compliance, and this worked well for a long time. This new style instills a sense of agency in employees – and as such leads to engagement and ownership.
Leaders can learn to wear different hats at different times and perform an intricate dance between teaching, learning, giving, mobilising, and coaching. This various modes, by no means exhaustive, embody a leadership style that, “Actively distributes authority to enable individuals and teams to make quicker and smarter decisions. It entails operating from a place of what one can learn, not from what one knows. “
All five models focus on building transparency by being radically candid. Which one to use at any given time begins with the question: how can I help my teams do their best work?
Leaders that get this are not just making the workplace more human, they’re also fostering better financial performance. The two are not mutually exclusive. Companies with high degrees of trust surpass the average annualized returns of S&P 500 businesses by a factor of three.
On the flip side, tell us more about a ‘bad boss’ who is promoted based on the Peter Principle and causes a team’s morale to plummet.
The reality is that most of those at the helm of the company ship don’t have what it takes to be a 21st century leader. In many ways, managers tend to rise up in the organization to the stage of their respective incompetence. And this should be very concerning as the cracks in our organizations become more evident.
The top destroyer of meaningfulness at work is bad management. And while, “Good leaders can often go unnoticed,” it’s hard to ignore the bad ones who suck the sense of purpose from their staff.
The real problem is that the potential damage of this hypercritical, controlling and ineffective management style goes well beyond unmotivated employees. It contributes to serious physical issues including depression, high blood pressure, weight gain, substance abuse, and even premature death.
What are some ways aspiring leaders can develop and learn to be aligned with one of the positive five leadership modes and avoid becoming the dreaded bad boss?
What underpins all these new modes of leading is the creation of high trust cultures that provide workers with the requisite agency, connection to work and colleagues, access to support, and regular opportunities for growth.
Seasoned and aspiring leaders must model the behaviour. If a company is going to grow a new generation of leaders, they first need to see the model. And if emergent leaders don’t see this, they’ll need to quickly learn to manage up or move to a company that does let them flex these new styles.
The shift in mindset is about letting go of the age-old idea that a leader necessarily has, or controls, authority. Instead, this new breed of leader adapts to circumstances and is effective in dynamically distributing power and decision making. Taking an integrated approach founded upon transparency and knowledge sharing – efficacious leaders therefore bake resiliency into their teams. Their people become shapers who are accountable, empowered, and engaged.
Perhaps most importantly is to practice what you preach and live up to the values of the organization. For example, Squarespace exists to help people stand out and succeed. Employees flock to work in order to learn, share, create, and just hangout. The leaders here know that staff are not resources to be managed but are humans to be challenged.
A leader is only one if they have followers. And the biggest shift a leader can make today is to stop looking to change their organization or others within it, and start to change themselves. Then they’ll be secure in letting someone else drive from time to time, so long as they have a seat on the bus.
For more information, see Shapers: Reinvent the Way You Work and Change Your Future.
Image credit: Marek Piwnicki