Leadership Paradigms: Why Some Soar While Most Struggle

photo by: Williams-Cairns Photography LLC

Three Paradigms of Leadership: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

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Behaviorist Paradigm

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  • They must know what is expected of them.
  • They must be held accountable.
  • They must be trained on how to perform their job well.
  • They must be incentivized to work hard.

Humanist Paradigm

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  • Self-directing,
  • Self-managing,
  • Acting like leaders,
  • Resilient in the face of change and adversity, and
  • More committed to making a difference than to their own self-interest.

Businesses have fostered an impulse toward greater autonomy and freedom but have failed to equip employees with the corresponding critical thinking and self-management capabilities to use that freedom effectively.

Multiple hazards can arise from this way of thinking. Google’s experiment with removing managers and Netflix’s struggle to uphold its “culture of freedom and responsibility” offer two well-known examples. Most people love the idea of freedom at work but, in the absence of the self-governing capabilities that Sanford alludes to, they find the responsibility part really hard.

  1. Management, with some employee participation, zeros in on a desired organizational capability or cultural trait-for example, “We want to be more innovative and agile.”
  2. A mix of consultants, an HR center of excellence, or an employee-led transformation team defines the right behaviors and values that, according to their intuition and research, produce innovation and agility. The list might include aspirational behaviors such as taking risks, challenging the status quo, showing initiative, thinking outside the box, and being curious about the ideas of others.
  3. The organization then creates and deploys an innovation and agility program that trains, nudges, rewards, and reinforces these ideal behaviors in employees. Of course, consistent with humanist philosophy, the program is experiential and participatory, paying equal attention to the building of both “soft” and “hard” skills.

Developmental Paradigm

  • Critical systemic thinking — the capacity to make sense of the complex dynamics of the business, its customers, industry, and markets, and discern increasingly effective ways to create system-actualizing effects.
  • Interactive effectiveness — learning to order and organize one’s thinking, as well as manage one’s reactivity and attachments when engaging with others.
  • Personal mastery — learning to manage one’s ego, motivation, and energy drains in order to maintain focus and productivity in the face of ambiguity, uncertainty, and disruption.

This process of developing people is built into the design of a business and how it works. It is not something that gets bolted on, along with other management practices that have accumulated over the years. Rather, it is fundamental-a necessary part of what it takes to grow a successful, holistic, highly intelligent organization.

In Conclusion

Taken together, the three core premises of developmental leadership-evoking purposeful contribution, building whole-business thinking, and cultivating tri-level development-work together as a whole dynamic system. When organization members can connect their aspirations to the essence of the business and the real lives of customers, they develop caring, which awakens their will and creativity. They learn to focus their attention on how to make customer lives more healthy, meaningful, and fulfilling. As employees come to understand how a whole business works, they become more effective and agile in delivering innovative and financially effective solutions. Supported by an organization’s commitment to their tri-level development, employees become more able to act on their caring, driving innovation on behalf of customers at every level of the business.



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Max Shkud

Max Shkud


Building a “mind of a CEO” across organization. Developing self-motivating, self-managing, self-accountable teams.