A couple of days ago I wrote a post citing Peter Block’s article on citizenship. Without reading the article one can mistakenly gain a perception that Block’s position is that leaders in this citizenship model are largely unneeded.
The citizenship model, and Lean thinking, requires leadership at a level that is far more demanding than the traditional Bulk thinking approach toward enterprise leadership.
Bulk thinking demands that enterprises develop an elite level of talented leaders. These leaders, especially at the CEO level of large corporations, are pictured as superheroes responsible for driving their companies, and even the economy, to higher levels of success.
This can be seen in the pages of Chief Executive magazine. The January/February 2016 issue includes a feature ranking the best companies for nurturing leaders. While many of the actions praised by the article are laudable it is clear that the focus remains on bringing selected high potential people through a leadership funnel through which they must be developed. There was no discussion of cultivating leadership at the line level.
A separate article in the same issue reports from a recent CEO Talent Summit. A quote from Michael Arena, Chief Talent and Development Officer at General Motors is telling. “we’ve decided that culture emerges from the bottom up. Yes, it is clear that leaders need to set the tone, and it is clear that values and strategy are set from the top. But it is also clear that if you can engage people from the bottom up and co-create and meet somewhere in the middle something remarkable can happen.”
This is not to pick on Michael Arena, because no doubt he is reflecting a widespread sentiment. This is to pick on the sentiment. Notice the language. First, that there is a top and a bottom. Second, the top decides that culture emerges from the bottom up. Words like top and bottom confer a clear representation of superiority and inferiority. We can quibble about which of ‘coaches and players’ or ‘support staff and front line teams’ are better Lean phrases, but certainly being either part of the top or bottom as descriptions of people in the enterprise needs to be seen as archaic.
A quote in the same article from Daniel Pink is more encouraging. “Human beings don’t engage by being controlled. …..When people have more autonomy over aspects of their work, they’re more likely to engage and do great work.”
This is more than getting ‘corporate’ out of the way of the people doing the work. People need to be challenged to understand the autonomy they have and how to best use that autonomy when working in teams. This is where Lean leadership begins.