Step Up! We All Must Lead

by Andrea Chilcote

The following post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a weekly blogger.

I’m feeling very hopeful.     Step Up_Gen Y

For more than 20 years I’ve been helping organizations cultivate cultures that are more participative, respectful, and learning-focused, where dialogue, development and learning are valued over hierarchy, and, ummm … leaders’ egos. There are leagues of people like me out there – and some days I wonder, “Why, if we’re making progress, are we all still in business?”  The need is still so great despite the efforts being made.

If you’ve ever worked for a company, and if you’ve ever had a boss, you probably know what a paternalistic, controlling management style looks like. Chances are you’ve experienced it, observed it – or maybe even acted in that manner. But this style of so-called leading is not limited to companies. It’s also played out in families, communities and social venues.

Now, the universe is conspiring to help, in a few big ways.

Some new teachers have arrived on the scene, the generation of our future, Gen Y. They’re an optimistic, success focused, confident and self-reliant bunch. And guess what? They don’t respond well to command and control. Recently, I had the honor of being interviewed by Ladan Nikraven of Chief Learning Officer Magazine for their online feature, Ask a Gen Y.  I suggested that the irony is that we have been trying for many years to promote the kind of corporate cultures in which Gen Y thrives, and along they come to help us walk our talk.

Economic realities and technological capabilities have converged to enable (or force) organizations to create what we call, in my world, “matrix” structures. People live and work in locations far from customers and team members, have more than one boss, and must influence peers in the organization without any direct authority over them. All of this means they have to collaborate, share information, and build an uncommon degree of trust.

Some individuals are responding to the changes I describe by breathing a little easier, because it simply feels more authentic. Some organizations are models for the shift. In fact, a client company has adopted Robert Greenleaf‘s “servant leadership model”  as a guidepost for employee behavior. And they mean it.

Others are fighting change. But a tipping point just might have been reached.

Why is this important for you? Because we are all leaders. If you’ve given your power to some person or organization, there’s never been a better time to take it back.

Several years ago, a participant in a workshop I was conducting lamented that she would never be promoted to a leadership position because she wasn’t allowed to lead in her current role, and thus was unable to demonstrate she had the potential. Upon further discussion, it turns out she defined “leadership” as having the position authority one gains from a title – the ability to unilaterally direct others and have them comply.

While that may seem naive to some of you, how many times have you failed to lead because you weren’t officially sanctioned to do so?

Personal development guru Martha Beck writes: “Part of the transformation of human consciousness is understanding that we can lead from any social or economic position, if we access our power to direct our own thinking, make our own choices, and respond to our own sense of right and wrong.”

Step up. We all must lead.