Balance Compete with Focus on People

Today’s predominant culture of competition

In Frederic Laloux’s The Future of Management is Teal, he took readers on a journey looking at the evolutionary breakthroughs in human collaboration from as far back as 10,000 years ago to where we are today. We’re at a time where the most predominant style of leadership and management in business and politics today, is that where the goal is to beat competition, achieve profit and growth, to get ahead, to succeed in socially acceptable way, and to best play the cards one is dealt.

Get into the right school, get into the right job, get to the top. Star performers are rewarded with individual incentives. The mentality to get ahead, is to compete.

Is there a richer way to work and life?

Margaret Heffernan shares in her Ted talk Forget the pecking order at work, how for the past 50 years, most organizations and some societies have been run along the superchicken model, where we thought that success is achieved by picking the superstars, the brightest people, and giving them all the resources and all the power. What do you think is the result of that? Aggression, dysfunction, and waste. Because in the superchicken model, the only way the most productive can be successful, is by suppressing the productivity of the rest.

This raise the question — what is it that makes some groups more successful and more productive than others? Based on an MIT research, high-achieving groups were not those where they had one or two people with high IQ, nor were the most successful groups the ones that had the highest aggregate IQ. The really successful teams had three characteristics:

  1. They showed high degrees of social sensitivity to each other.
  2. They gave roughly equal time to each other so that no one voice dominated, but neither were there any passengers.
  3. They had a diverse perspective.

What does it all mean?

Social connectedness is why some groups do better than others. It means what happens between people really counts.

What does it mean for leadership and management then in today’s context, where the nature of work has evolved into more complex nature?

Is there a way to manage to let people motivate each other, rather than routinely pitting employees against each other? Motivating people with money works for rewarding straightforward tasks, but given how the nature of work has evolved into more complex nature, what motivates us at work, has shifted and progressed, and is much more intrinsic, around autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Instead of expecting leaders to be at the front of the pack, solving complex problems all by themselves, leadership is practiced when getting people together to work towards a shared goal, relying on everyone’s contributions, on everyone’s diverse strengths. In top-performing companies, it is a norm that colleagues support one another’s efforts to do the best work possible.

Also, most leaders focus on how employees think and behave, but feelings matter just as much. Research has shown that, emotions influence employee’s commitment, creativity, decision making, work quality, and the likelihood of sticking around, which in the end, would affect the bottom line.

Second Road has put it across really well, “We believe that the great organizations of the twenty-first centuries won’t be built around the industrial model, but around people. Great organizations of the twenty-first century will be purpose centered; they will unlock their people’s creativity and passions; they will build their services backward from customer experiences, and they will consciously contribute to the fabric of society. Ironically these will also be the profitable organizations, because the new economy will be people-centered, and meaning will be the new currency.”

Don’t just compete, focus on people too. After all, companies don’t have ideas, only people do.

Balance Compete with Focus on People is an entry of a blog series to communicate what I’m learning in Leadership by Design and the MBA in Design Strategy program at CCA. In my writings, I will share my emerging insights about leadership, management, organizational health, or social innovation.

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