Our stories are very different, and yet there are some striking common themes: Both of us started in restaurants as dishwashers and became CEOs. Both of us mapped out our goals early in life. Both of us believe in people as the way to transform company culture.
Perhaps that is why I was immediately drawn into the pages of Cameron Mitchell’s compelling book.
More likely the answer to my intrigue is the fact that I find myself in one of his restaurants every week. You can always count on superb service, delicious food, and an inviting atmosphere.
The professional landscape is transforming, and the only way to maintain competitive advantage is to maximize the unique skills of your workforce. In Humanity Works: Merging Technologies and People for the Workforce of the Future, consultant and futurist Alexandra Levit provides a guide to making the most of the human traits of creativity, judgment, problem solving and interpersonal sensitivity.
If you’ve ever wondered what the ‘robot takeover’ will look like, how talent and machines can work side by side and how you can make organizational structures more agile and innovation focused, you will be interested in Alexandra’s work. I recently spoke with her about her research and observations.
“Enlightened 21st-century leaders will abandon command-and-control to diplomatically govern their organizations.” -Alexandra Levit
You cover some sweeping trends. Would you share a few of the macro themes that are the backdrop of your work?
The book addresses a few essential questions: In a world where robots can do more and more, where does that leave us as humans? How will leaders build integrated human teams that can compete in a business world with constant evolutions and disruptions while remaining productive, marketable and sane? We explore the demographics, technological advances, work structures, organizational priorities, leadership models, individual career paths and human roles coming to fruition in the immediate years to come.
“The speed with which information populates the online world means with one wrong move, your organization’s reputation could be in jeopardy.” -Alexandra Levit
To be successful today, leaders must develop relationships based on openness and trust. Leaders can no longer rely on formal hierarchical structures and processes. Instead, the new era of leadership is based on service, on teamwork, and even on humility.
To get us started, compare and contrast traditional leadership with “humble leadership.”
We see two common myths surrounding “traditional leadership” that humble leadership calls into question. First is the heroic “I alone” myth that suggests that the greatest leaders rise to the top on their own individual brilliance. By contrast, humble leadership proposes that leadership occurs throughout an organization, at all levels and in all roles, and reaches its pinnacles of success when groups drive better decisions and achieve better outcomes.
The second myth is that organizations are machines, directed with command and control, most successful when they can be described as a “well-oiled machine.” Humble leadership proposes that this is at best an antiquated view of organizations. Instead we think of organizations as living systems capable of cooperative resource sharing and adaptation better suited to the volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous (VUCA) world we are only now starting to accept.
“Humble means accepting that no individual can know more or make better decisions than any group at work.”
What do most people get wrong when they think of humble leadership?
Humble leadership is not about humility in the individual or religious sense. Humble means accepting that no individual can know more or make better decisions than any group at work. Humble means I go to work embracing the fact that I do not have all the answers and will do a better job by asking for help and helping others in the group to arrive at the best decisions. In Ed Schein’s Humble Leadership series, he refers to this framing of humility as “here and now humility.”
We see leadership as a verb not an entitlement. The foundational idea is that humble leadership requires the formation of personal relationships (at work and home) that allow two people or a group to achieve more than the sum of their individual outputs.
In Humble Consulting and Humble Leadership, a human relationship model is presented that describes human relationships in four levels. Level 1 is domination and exploitation (think prison guards or shop floor bosses in a sweatshop). Level 1 is transactional role-to-role interaction, cordial but typified by “professional distance.” Level 2 is a cooperative empathic connection between two whole persons formed by inquiring and sharing information. A Level 2 relationship is based upon, and continually reinforces, openness and trust. We refer to the process of creating Level 2 relationships as “personization.” Level 3 adds intimacy to openness and trust. This Level 3 ability to “finish each other’s sentences” is typically associated with lovers more than co-workers, though we do see Level 3 relationships in the highest performing teams (e.g. SEAL teams, orchestras, improv performers, and so on).
The essence of humble leadership is building Level 2 relationships with the people around you in order to improve and maximize information flow (openness) and cooperative work (trust). With these Level 2 relationships, anyone can arrive at work with here-and-now humility, knowing that he or she does not have all the answers, and confident that with inquiry and curiosity, better answers and outcomes will result.
Organizational culture isn’t just a hot topic–it’s an untapped asset and potential liability for all businesses. And yet, for all its potential to make or break, few know how to manage cultures with proficiency. In her newly released book, Culture Your Culture: Innovating Experiences @Work, Karen Jaw-Madson provides the much needed, step-by-step, “how-to” for designing, implementing and sustaining culture. Karen is principal of Co.-Design of Work Experience where she focuses on culture and organizational change.
We recently had the opportunity to ask Karen some of our own questions.
A 2015 survey from Columbia Business School and Duke University found that out of almost 2,000 CEOs and CFOs, 90% said corporate culture was important, but only 15% felt that their culture was where it needed to be.
Would you give a quick synopsis of DOWE? What is it and how does it work?
Design of Work Experience (DOWE) is a concept and methodology that partners employees and their employer to co-create, implement, and sustain culture. DOWE is comprised of four main components: the combination of DESIGN and CHANGE processes enabled by leveraging and building CAPABILITY and ENGAGEMENT throughout. When you dig deeper, the process is further segmented into 5 phases: UNDERSTAND, CREATE & LEARN, DECIDE, PLAN, and IMPLEMENT. All the phases are organized as a series of iterative learning loops, each with its own specific set of activities.
4 Components of DOWE
Is there one of the four components of DOWE that is more difficult than the others?
The difficulty (or ease) with any aspect of the DOWE process would depend on the individual organization–their current strengths and capabilities, as well as their current context. For example, a company used to constant change may find the change process more familiar than one that has not experienced a lot of change. Another may be dealing with apathy, so engagement may be a challenge, and so on and so forth.
One of my favorite leadership thinkers is Samuel Bacharach. Not only is he a regular columnist for Inc., an author, and a leadership speaker, but he is also the McKelvey-Grant Professor at Cornell University.
In the last number of years there has been massive growth in books about leadership and trainings in leadership, but one fundamental question is not asked: What is it in an organizational context do we want leaders to accomplish?
If we are going to train and educate people in leadership, it has to be for a purpose. In an organizational context, that focus has to be on the capacity of people to come up with ideas, move ideas, implement them, create change and innovation, and get things done. In this context, what is important to me is pragmatic leadership—that is, the simple and clear tasks of execution. Not execution as global promise but as a series of skills that can be followed and achieved for results.
In The Agenda Mover: When Your Good Idea Is Not Enough, I discussed the micro-political skills that leaders at levels need to move their agenda: creating coalitions, overcoming resistance, negotiating, and establishing credibility. These often-ignored political skills were the focus of this volume.
Over the last three years I have been focusing on the question, “What do I want leaders to accomplish?” In my experience of some forty-odd years, I realize that great leaders are those who begin to have the sense of when their organization becomes stuck, sluggish, and trapped by inertia. Great leaders break inertia. They appreciate the dangers of inertia and do something about it. They also understand that organizations may be sluggish and in the doldrums of inertia, even though they continue functioning. These leaders understand that although inertia may not necessarily lead to immediate failure, inertia may impede their organization’s capacity to reach its potential. Transforming the Clunky Organizationfocuses on the characteristics of organizations that get trapped by inertia and, in turn, suggests leadership skills and strategies leaders can use to overcome sluggishness and inertia.
“Organizations get stuck because of sluggishness and inertia. Great leaders know how to break inertia.” -Samuel Bacharach