Effective Leaders Must Answer: Where Are We Going and Why?

Do we expect too much from our leaders? Effective leaders must be sensitive to the expectations of the people he or she leads. Followers have two types of expectations:

  1. Explicit: Responsibilities to be fulfilled as part of the leadership role (fiscal responsibility, strategy and direction, accountability and execution)
  2. Implicit: All of the unspoken expectations like competence, fair treatment, commitment, engagement, listening, inspiration, direction and meaning-making

Implicit expectations can be minefields because they’re based on assumptions, may be unrealistic, are often misunderstood and vary greatly among stakeholders. We nevertheless judge leaders’ effectiveness on both explicit and implicit expectations.

Smart leaders know they’re always being judged. Success or failure depends on whether or not leaders clarify these role expectations and keep their promises. Hidden expectations will never be discovered unless a leader asks about them.

Most of us assume we’re on the same page as others, but every conversation offers an opportunity to elicit information about expectations. You accelerate your leadership effectiveness by asking about, learning and managing expectations.

4 Promises of Leaders

Business success is not a true measurement of leadership effectiveness. A business may take off, but leaders can still fall short unless they are skilled at influencing and inspiring people for the long term.

Although followers often expect too much of their leaders, they must at the very least fulfill four promises and excel in four key competencies:

  1. Strategy
  2. Engagement
  3. Execution
  4. Leadership Development

The First Promise: Set the Right Direction

The first leadership promise focuses on strategy, mission and values, and it’s as much about people as it is about profits. An effective leader answers the question, "Where are we going?"

Stakeholders hold leaders to this vital promise because it establishes the “why” they’re in business, as well as “what” the business will and won’t do. This foundation sets direction and meaning, creating a culture in which people can thrive.

Direction and meaning set the stage for establishing a business identity and brand. Effective leaders can articulate their organizations’ unique contributions to the world. They know their people want not only a paycheck, but alignment with company values. They want to contribute to a purpose beyond profits, so leaders must ensure these values are publicized and practiced throughout the business.

Leaders are most effective when they communicate a noble purpose to every employee. Otherwise, people struggle to define why their work matters.

What’s it like where you work?

I’d love to hear from you. I can be reached here and on LinkedIn.

A Brief History of Organizations: The Quest to Reinvent Work

The way we work isn’t working anymore.

Some experts blame traditional organizational hierarchies, incentives that fail to motivate, disengaged employees (two-thirds of the workforce), and a system that overcompensates management while undervaluing frontline workers.

New ways of working have already evolved, explains corporate coach Frederic Laloux in Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness. He poses an important question:

Can we create organizations free of politics, bureaucracy and infighting; free of stress and burnout; free of resignation, resentment, and apathy; and free of the posturing at the top and the drudgery at the bottom?

Some say we’re on the verge of a shift in the way we organize and manage people who must work together. Others aren’t so sure. Is it really possible to reinvent organizations? Can we devise a new model that makes work more productive—and, even more importantly—truly fulfilling and meaningful?

In the course of history, humankind has repeatedly reinvented how people come together to get work done, each time creating a new, vastly superior organizational model. What’s more, this historical perspective hints at a new organizational design that may be just around the corner, waiting to emerge.

Organizations’ Evolving Stages

A review of the major stages in the development of human consciousness and organizations reveals how we can potentially reinvent work to be more productive and meaningful.

Many scientists and historians have categorized how we organize to get things done, but naming the stages is always a struggle. It’s challenging to use a single adjective to capture the complex reality of any organizational model.

One way to understand and clarify developmental stages is to assign descriptive names and colors, which vary according to experts. Laloux uses names and colors suggested by Ken Wilber, Integral Theory, Spiral Dynamics and others.

Early Tribal Organizations

Reactive-Infrared Paradigm: This paradigm addresses humanity’s earliest developmental stage, spanning 100,000 to 50,000 BC. Humans lived in small bands of family kinships.

These bands typically numbered just a few dozen people who foraged to survive. There was no division of labor, so there was nothing resembling an organizational model. There was no hierarchy, chief or leadership. There were usually high rates of violence and murder.

Magic-Magenta Paradigm: Around 15,000 years ago, humanity started to shift into tribes of up to a few hundred people, representing a major improvement in members’ ability to handle complexity. Tribes sought comfort in ritualistic behaviors, following an elder or shaman with strong beliefs in spirits and magic.

Early Organization of Labor

Impulsive-Red Paradigm: Around 10,000 years ago, chiefdoms and proto-empires evolved as the first forms of organizational life. Thinking was shaped by a black-and-white worldview: strong vs. weak, us vs. them.

Role differentiation and divisions of labor existed, with a chief, foot soldiers and sometimes slaves. Some present-day organizations still operate with this model: prisons, crime cartels, countries at war or civil-war states. Gangs and inner-city neighborhoods may organize using the Red Paradigm.

A Red Organization’s defining characteristic is the chief’s use of overwhelming power to remain in position. There’s no formal hierarchy and no job titles, so this organizational model doesn’t scale well. Fear and submission keep the structure intact.

Conformist-Amber Paradigm: Every paradigm shift opens up new capabilities and emerging ways for groups to get things done. Around 4000 BC, more sophisticated societies emerged in Mesopotamia. Humankind leaped from a tribal world subsisting on horticulture to the age of agriculture, states and civilizations, institutions, bureaucracies and organized religions.

A new class of rulers, administrators, warriors and craftsmen emerged. To feel safe in the world, members of the Amber Paradigm sought order, stability and predictability, creating control through institutions and bureaucracies. Societal roles and rules were well defined.

Most people today operate from this paradigm. They grasp cause-and-effect relationships and linear time, and they can project into the future. These capabilities foster self-discipline and foresight in planning.

Amber Organizations: With the Amber level of consciousness, organizations evolved because of two breakthrough ideas:

  1. Medium- and long-term planning
  2. Stable and scalable structures

These breakthroughs led to unprecedented innovation: irrigation systems, pyramids, the Great Wall of China, trading posts, merchant shipping and the Catholic Church.

The first large corporations of the Industrial Revolution were run on this paradigm. Amber Organizations are still very present today: government agencies, public schools, religious institutions and the military.

Today’s Organizations

Achievement-Orange Paradigm: As consciousness evolves, people can handle greater complexity. They move beyond absolute right-or-wrong reasoning, weighing relevant variables. Effectiveness replaces morals as the decision-making yardstick.

Orange thinking emerged with the Age of Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. It was adopted by most Western societies after the Second World War. Orange is the dominating worldview of most modern businesses and political leaders.

Orange thinking has spurred scientific investigation, innovation and entrepreneurship, bringing unprecedented prosperity in just two centuries. Yet, every paradigm has its dark side.

Driven by materialism and individual egos, the Achievement-Orange Paradigm has also yielded corporate greed, short-term thinking, overconsumption, and reckless exploitation of resources and ecosystems.

Orange Organizations: The global corporation is the embodiment of this paradigm. Orange organizations have achieved more than any of their brethren, primarily through three breakthroughs:

  1. Innovation
  2. Accountability
  3. Meritocracy

Orange organizations are process- and project-driven, retaining the pyramid as their basic structure, but with project groups, teams and cross-functional initiatives that enable faster innovation.

They aim to predict and control, inventing tactics like management by objectives, key performance indicators, strategic planning, budget cycles and scoreboards to track progress. The reigning metaphor is the machine; people are resources managed with incentives.

With meritocracy, in principle, anyone can move up the ladder. Individual success is highly valued. Leadership is goal-oriented, focused on solving tangible problems, putting tasks over relationships. Dispassionate rationality is favored over emotions.

A downside of the Orange paradigm is “innovation gone mad,” or growth pursued for growth’s sake. When the bottom line is all that counts, collective greed may triumph.

When there’s a lack of shared values and purpose—when success is driven year after year by numbers and targets, milestones and deadlines—people may end up bereft of meaning and fulfillment.

Achievement-Orange is clearly the dominant paradigm of today’s corporations, but not all organizations are satisfied with the bottom line as their sole focus.

Pluralistic-Green Paradigm: The Pluralistic-Green worldview attempts to fill the void of individual success by being sensitive to everyone’s feelings. In the Green stage, the emphasis is on social equality and community. All people deserve respect, fairness and harmony through cooperation and consensus.

The Green Paradigm brought about the abolition of slavery and equality for women and minorities in the late 18th and 19th centuries, and it continues to make inroads today. While Orange is predominant in business and politics, Green largely prevails in postmodern academic thinking, nonprofits and community activism.

Green Organizations: Green strives for bottom-up processes, gathering input from all levels to achieve consensus. The Green perspective is uneasy with power and hierarchy. But consensus among large groups of people is inherently difficult.

Green Organizations have contributed three breakthroughs:

  1. Empowerment: Although they retain the pyramidal hierarchical structure, Green leaders push a majority of decisions down to frontline workers. Top and middle managers share power.
  2. Shared Values and Purpose: Research shows that values-driven organizations can outperform others by wide margins.
  3. Multiple-Stakeholder Perspective: While Orange companies strive to increase shareholder value, Green looks to benefit all stakeholders: employees, customers, suppliers, communities and the environment.

If Orange businesses use a machine metaphor, the metaphor for Green is the family. Examples of Green organizations include Southwest Airlines, Zappos and Ben & Jerry’s.

Teal: The Newest Stage of Organizations

The next stage of human consciousness corresponds to Maslow’s self-actualizing level and has been variously labeled “authentic,” “integral” or “Evolutionary-Teal.” People transitioning to Teal deal with the world in more complex and refined ways. For example:

  • The shift to Conformist-Amber happens when Impulsive-Red internalizes rules that allow them to disidentify from impulsively satisfying their needs.
  • The shift to Achievement-Orange happens when Amber disidentifies from group norms.
  • The shift to Evolutionary-Teal happens when we learn to disidentify from our own ego.

When we minimize the need to control, to look good, to be right and to fit in, we are no longer fused with ego. We refuse to let fears reflexively control our lives. We listen for wisdom in others and to the deeper parts of ourselves.

The fears of the ego are replaced by a capacity to trust the abundance of life. With this belief, if something unexpected happens or if we make mistakes, we are confident things will turn out all right. (And when they don’t, we believe life will give us an opportunity to learn and grow.)

  • In Impulsive-Red, a good decision is the one that gets me what I want.
  • In Conformist-Amber, decisions conform to rules and social norms.
  • In Achievement-Orange, decision yardsticks are effectiveness and success.
  • In Pluralistic-Green, decisions are judged by the criteria of belonging and harmony.

In Evolutionary-Teal, we are concerned with inner rightness: Does this decision seem right? Am I of service to the world? Does my decision resonate with my deep inner convictions?

In Teal, we do not pursue recognition, success, wealth and belonging to live a good life; we pursue a life well lived. Our ultimate goals are reimagined:

  • To become the truest expression of ourselves
  • To live into authentic selfhood
  •  To honor our gifts and calling
  •  To be of service to humanity

Leaders of Teal Organizations

What happens when leaders run an organization from the Teal Paradigm?

The higher they climb on the developmental ladder, the more effectively they’ll lead others, according to several researchers.

William Torbert has established that a CEO’s developmental stage significantly determines the success of large-scale corporate transformation programs. Leaders who operate from Evolutionary-Teal were by far the most successful Clare Graves came to a similar conclusion in his research.

The more complex our worldview and cognition, the more effectively we can deal with problems. In Teal Organizations, some of today’s common corporate ills disappear. But many questions arise:

  • When trust replaces fear, does a hierarchical pyramid provide the best structure?
  • Are all the rules, policies, detailed budgets, targets and processes that give leaders control still necessary or effective?
  • Are there simpler, more efficient ways to run organizations?

To answer such questions, Laloux researched a dozen pioneer companies that operate on Teal principles. Next month’s article will explore their structures, practices and cultures.

Teamwork: Introverts vs. Extroverts

I’ve been writing about teams and brainstorming, and reviewing all the research that shows that individual work is actually more creative than group brainstorming.
The one exception to effective brainstorming is when it is done online. When properly managed, groups that brainstorm online perform better than individuals – and the larger the group, the better it performs. The same holds true for academic research: Professors who collaborate electronically tend to produce more influential research.
What we fail to realize is that participating in an online working group is a form of solitude unto itself. Nevertheless, brainstorming continues to be a popular method within organizations and with teams.
Participants in brainstorming sessions usually believe their group performed much better than it actually did. Brainstorming makes people feel attached, but social glue is far different from genuine creativity.
Introverts vs. Extroverts
In the work I do leadership coaching, I see big differences in work styles depending on whether one is an introvert or an extrovert. One’s attraction to working in social groups may be culturally influenced.
In the U.S., for example, companies tend to idealize charismatic extroverts. (Think celebrities and media-savvy CEOs.) Because extroverts usually talk the most (and often the loudest), their ideas are heard and often implemented.
Psychologists agree that introverts and extroverts work differently. Extroverts tend to tackle assignments quickly. They make fast and sometimes rash decisions. They are comfortable with multitasking and risk-taking.
Introverts often work more slowly and deliberately. They prefer to focus on one task at a time, and they dislike interruptions and noisy environments that interfere with concentration.
Extroverts think out loud and on their feet; they prefer talking to listening and are comfortable with conflict, but not with solitude.
Introverts, in contrast, may have strong social skills and enjoy some parties and business meetings, but after a while they wish they were at home with a good book. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak and often express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict.
To learn more about the important differences in introverts and extroverts working in teams, I recommend Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.
Leaders must understand each team member’s strengths and temperament. The most effective teams are composed of a healthy mix of introverts and extroverts.

The New Groupthink

In “The Rise of the New Groupthink” (The New York Times, Jan.13, 2012), corporate attorney and author Susan Cain explains:
Solitude is out of fashion. Our companies, our schools and our culture are in thrall to an idea I call the New Groupthink, which holds that creativity and achievement come from an oddly gregarious place. Most of us now work in teams, in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in.
There’s a problem with the view that all work should be conducted by teams. Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption. As Cain writes:
Anyone who has ever needed noise-canceling headphones in her own office or marked an online calendar with a fake meeting in order to escape yet another real one knows what I’m talking about.
It’s one thing when each member works autonomously on his piece of the puzzle; it’s another to be corralled into endless meetings or conference calls conducted in offices that afford no respite from coworkers’ conversations or gazes.
False Benefits of Brainstorming
Brainstorming is a creative technique through which group members form solutions to specific problems by spontaneously shouting out ideas, without censoring themselves or criticizing others. The term was popularized by marketing expert Alex Faickney Osborn in the 1953 book Applied Imagination.
But decades of research show that individuals almost always perform better than groups in both quality and quantity, and performance worsens as group size increases. Groups of nine generate fewer and poorer ideas compared to groups of six, which function worse than groups of four.
The “evidence from science suggests that business-people must be insane to use brainstorming groups,” writes organizational psychologist Adrian Furnham. “If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority.”
Psychologists usually offer three explanations for the failure of group brainstorming:
1. Social loafing. Some individuals sit back and let others do all the work.
2. Production blocking. Only one person can talk or produce an idea at a time, so the others are forced to sit passively.
3. Evaluation apprehension. Even when group members agree to welcome all ideas, people fear they’ll look stupid in front of their peers.
What do you see happening in the teams you participate in?

The Hidden Problems with Teams

One of the complaints I hear frequently from the people I work with as an executive coach is the lack of time to get work done because of meetings. Meetings are time consuming, and all teams require them.
There are other insidious disadvantages to teamwork, notes Professor Heidi K. Gardner in her April 2012 Harvard Business Review article, “Coming Through When It Matters Most”.
“Just when teams most need to draw on the full range of their members’ knowledge to produce the high-quality, uniquely suitable outcomes they started out to deliver, they instead begin to revert to the tried and true,” she writes.
Under pressure, teams gravitate toward safe ground. While most start out highly engaged, inviting input from everyone, members become risk-averse as they push toward project completion. They maneuver toward consensus in a way that blocks paths to critical information.
This process occurs through subtle language cues that warn team members to avoid delays. Team leaders use their positional power to foster harmony and swift decision-making. Although discussions still appear to be open, in reality there’s an effort to move the project along by getting everyone to agree on the optimal course.
If this sounds like “groupthink”, it is. But it’s more nuanced and subtle – hence, more dangerous.
Groupthink, originally researched by Yale University psychologist Irving Janis, is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within groups. It’s a mode of thinking that occurs when a decision-making group’s desire for harmony overrides its realistic appraisal of alternatives.
Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus, without critically evaluating additional ideas or viewpoints. Factors like group cohesiveness and situational context help determine whether groupthink will contaminate the decision-making process.
The negative cost of groupthink is loss of individual creativity, uniqueness and independent thinking. Organizationally, these consequences lead to costly errors in product launches, service policies and competitive strategies.
What are your thoughts about this?

The Problem with Teams

Teamwork demands shared responsibility, but it also demands individual contributions. It fails if team members shelter behind the consensus. ~ Robert Heller, Founding Editor, Management Today
A recent survey found that 91 percent of high-level managers believe teams are the key to success. But the evidence doesn’t always support this assertion. Many teamwork-related problems remain hidden from view.
In the work I do corporate coaching, I often hear assumptions about team effectiveness. Every team thinks it does its best work when the stakes are highest. On the contrary, pressures to perform drive people toward safe solutions that are justifiable, rather than innovative.
To raise my own awareness and those of my clients, like those needing a hospital coach program, I’ve been doing some reading about teams. Corporations increasingly organize workforces into teams, a practice that gained popularity in the 1990s. By 2000, roughly half of all U.S. organizations used teams; today, virtually all do.
Some teams work together from remote locations, relying on technical communication aids, such as web conferencing and email. Others demand a tremendous amount of face-to-face interaction, including team-building retreats, shared online calendars, meetings and physical workspaces that afford little privacy.
“Innovation – the heart of the knowledge economy – is fundamentally social,” writes prominent journalist Malcolm Gladwell.
Management expert Peter Drucker, who coined the term “knowledge worker”, points out that while people have always worked in tandem, “teams become the work unit rather than the individual himself” in knowledge work.
Working in teams has definite advantages:
o Improved information-sharing
o Better decisions, products and services
o Higher employee motivation and engagement
There are, however, several barriers to achieving great work from teams:
o Some individuals are faster (or better) on key tasks.
o Developing and maintaining teams can prove costly.
o Some individuals do less work, relying on others to complete assigned tasks.
Most corporate leaders nonetheless believe the benefits of teamwork far outweigh the costs. But do they? How much individual creative work isn’t being done because of the demands of group interaction and time-consuming meetings? Think about it. I’d love to hear your opinion on this.