“Under poor leaders we feel like we work for the company. With good leaders we feel like we work for each other.” – Simon Sinek
This quote by Simon Sinek (in combination with a re-read of Stephen Covey) inspired a train of thought… ok, a rather long train of thought… and inside it, surfaced an important underlying assumption for me.
We all work for each other – there is no other way.
In that light then, what happens when a culture of independence (I work for the company) meets a reality of interdependence (we work for each other)?
- Production (ship it) is consistently prioritized over production capacity (enablement & capability to ship). The impact of ignoring production capacity is most keenly felt when production invariably slows down. This slowing down is internalized as shame (it’s our fault, we need to do better) or blame (they never give us time to work on this important stuff). Which leads to the following…
- Heroes are celebrated and rewarded for the pain they endure, as it takes increasing amounts of effort and time to compensate for the production over production capacity imbalance. Heroic efforts are the real measure of professional growth within the independent cultured organization. Meanwhile, more complex acts of collaboration, learning, and growth go unrewarded and unrecognized.
- Leaders are compliant, protective, and siloed. A culture of independence tends to build trusting relationships through loyalty. Implicitly, looking good is more important than being good. Constructive and healthy conflict is disabled within the organization’s culture – creating an echo chamber. This behaviour inherently supports the following….
- Information is a form of currency and power. One-on-one discussions and decision making are favoured over collective discussion and decision making. In general, healthy team dynamics are considered a delivery team thing, not a leadership team thing – creating inner circles of power within these peer groups.
- Dissonance between leadership intention (what I say) and action (what I do). Consequently, people stop hearing these leaders and miss important messages from them over time. This lack of clarity in turn motivates employees to tell their own stories. These stories are rarely positive and create a self-reinforcing cycle of miscommunication and fear… which in turn feeds the culture of independence even further. I must protect myself and look out for #1.
- Disengagement is the only way employees feel that they can safely express their emotions in a manner that restores balance for them. Not happy? Feel frustrated? Feeling sad? Take a sick day, work from home, or take a vacation. Whatever you do, don’t tell your boss because that would expose a flaw (see “Heroes are celebrated” above) that could prove career limiting.
All in all, it’s really hard to work together. To compensate, staffing functions are created to implement measures of control. More discipline is applied in a wasteful attempt to align in the reality of interdependence with a culture of independence.
Transcending a culture of independence requires strategic investment in the development of leaders both as individuals and as a team to support genuine embodied behaviours aimed at meeting the complex reality of interdependence. There is no other way…