Almost all leadership concepts start with the assumption that a key role for the leader is to set a direction. This usually means designing and communicating a set of desirable outcomes and ways of getting there. Traditionally, the roles of vision, mission and goals have been there to help people to understand the direction of the enterprise, the meaning of work and how they relate to both. Today we need something more.
The meaning of work arises in communication between people who have a meaningful relationship.
We need to redefine what binds individuals together. Separate individuals subscribing to the goals set by the leaders, and making their interpretations about what they mean, may not be enough if people don’t connect with one another. What we are striving to do is not enough if there is no discussion about who “we” are and what “you” mean to me.
One cannot talk about an organization of people without referring to what makes them a community. Leadership should address the human search for connecting with other people and being part of something larger than yourself. The more passionate people are, the more they want to connect with meaningful people doing meaningful things.
As almost all organizations are becoming increasingly diverse and network-like, and as all boundaries are increasingly flexible, the notion of what brings people together is becoming even more critical.
When we think of creativity and intelligence, we usually think of extraordinary individuals. We imagine the thought processes of independent geniuses innovating in isolation. Nothing could be further away from the reality. Creativity is an interactive and social process for even the most gifted. Significant creative breakthroughs almost always represent years of sustained cooperation with others. Creative individuals need both independence and interdependence to do their best work. A creative organization thrives on the tension that arises from widely different but complementary abilities and views working with one another in enriching interaction.
In industrial management, employees were taken for granted and had no choice or voice. The foundations of work relationships are still largely built on asymmetrical relationships between the employer and the employee, the manager and the worker. This antagonism is already affecting labor markets in developed countries: firms are finding it increasingly hard to hire good people. Younger people are more and more attracted to self-employment and entrepreneurial possibilities instead of joining a corporation.
Knowledge workers want to have a say in what they do in life; where and when they work and most importantly, why and — with whom!