Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Leadership in the Participation Age

First things, first, I want to acknowledge fellow-Coloradoan Chuck Blakeman for inspiring me to write this blog. His philosophies about business leadership resonate with me, and much of the content of this blog, below, are a direct reflection of his insights. For years, I've thought that my philosophies about corporate culture and beliefs were too unusual to practice openly, but Chuck motivated me to come out of the closet.

This blog is an amalgam of thoughts and feelings related to corporate leadership and culture, and it starts with my basic belief that 95% of all humans are great people who, if given the right environment... the right soil... they will flourish on their own, with very little needs-- give them a caring, compassionate, supportive environment, then get out of their way and let them grow. As Mr. Blakeman explains, we have transitioned from the Industrial Age to the Participation Age-- from employees to stakeholders and those stakeholders are running the corporation, not the other way around. The average Fortune 500 company grows 110% over 10 years. Jim Collins "Good to Great" companies grow at 316%. Participation Age companies grow at 1,025%.

The underlying business premise here is this, as recently described by Paul Girouard, former President of Google Enterprise Apps: "All things being equal, the fastest company in any market will win", and all companies operate at the Speed of Trust. Decision speed matters and is largely determined by the degree of trust that exists between members of the company.

Below is a verse from the 17th century priest and poet, John Donne, that beautifully describes the philosophy of human "connectedness"-- that we are not disconnected individuals, but rather all part of the same ecosystem. What happens, good or bad, to one of us, somehow ripples through all of us. We are all participants in the same inseparable network of humanity, just trying to get along and get through our lives with as much fulfillment and happiness as possible. You will recognize this poem as the inspiration behind Ernest Hemingway's, "For Whom The Bell Tolls."

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

Participation Age organizations understand this sense of human connectedness. Operationally, below are some of the characteristics of these organizations, as summarized by Mr. Blakeman:
  1. Email is an interrupt, task driven, first generation technology tool for collaboration. In Participation Age companies, email has been replaced entirely or significantly by third and fourth generation collaboration and project management tools.
  2. Meetings have been dramatically reduced or eliminated; communication occurs through collaboration tools.
  3. There are no managers, managing people. Managers have been replaced by leaders and mentors.
  4. There are no personnel evaluations.
  5. They believe that the art of leadership is how many decisions you don't have to make. Every decision you make as a leader is a lost opportunity for mentoring, learning and leadership development.
  6. They believe that managers focus inappropriately on processes. Leaders focus on results.
  7. Managers delegate tasks. Leaders delegate authority.
  8. In the Industrial Age, we traded time for money. In the Participation Age, we trade money for time. Give people control over their own time. Focus on results.
  9. ​Trust in adult behavior.
  10. ​Everyone's work rhythm varies according to when, how, and where it works best for them. Acknowledge and allow for that whenever possible.
  11. Question EVERY decision with at least three Why's?
  12. Allow and encourage stakeholders/teammates to bring their whole messy, creative person to work. Make no false distinctions between personal and professional lives.
I suspect there are many of you, like I was, who are afraid to be "outed" for believing such crazy philosophies. If enough of us come out, we become the majority and crazy becomes the norm. That's how significant change in human culture always happens. What was once crazy is now the norm.

Make it happen and have fun doing it.

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