New Leadership, Part 2: Relighting the fire; Do we really try?

In my previous blog, I looked at how the two previous centuries have been characterized by certain beliefs about motivation. Most commonly, that rewarding, punishing, or giving people attention was ‘the best’ way to motivate them. I also argued that this perspective—that extrinsic rewards are effective—is still prevalent.

I thus suggested that in the 21st century, the challenge we face is to refuel intrinsic motivation. And that we can do this by giving people purpose, autonomy and mastery (Daniel Pink).

This insight has strong implications for how we view leadership. It requires us to look at people in an entirely different way: employees no longer appear as capital or resources, but as equal partners.

People are naturally interested and active.

That is, they do things that inspire them with passion and enthusiasm. Does it sound somewhat idealistic to you? I agree. There are a large number of employees (including managers!) who don’t seem to strive at all for independence, craftsmanship, and purpose.

But let’s be honest: to what extent do we actually endeavor to implement autonomy, craftsmanship, and purpose?

Aren’t we rather focused on control and management, on rewarding and punishing employees who accept or refuse to accept our control? Isn’t it only natural that we find ourselves encountering less and less passion and drive?

While the speed at which our world is changing specifically seems to trigger leadership based on more control and management, the fact remains that, in practice, these principles won’t allow us to address the challenges being faced by modern organizations. Leadership, which stimulates internal drive and independence, however, will.

To address modern organizational challenges, leadership should stimulate internal drive and independence.”

Emotion vs. Reason

Another potential explanation for the lack of desire for autonomy, craftsmanship, and purpose is somewhat more daring. I believe it is down to the struggle between nature and culture, or emotion and reason, which I believe still continues.

Research into the functioning of the brain, combined with insights from emotional intelligence, have shown that the emotional centers in our brain can work independently. This means – in both a positive and a negative sense – that our emotions determine our behavior, possibly even more than our lovely, rational visions and thoughts.

The emotional brain does everything possible to protect the life, dignity, and self-esteem of others. If we respect people, their positive emotions will give them a positive drive. On the contrary, if we trample their dignity and self-esteem (on purpose or otherwise!), we cause negative emotional behavior.

Hence, people can no longer work constructively and rationally for their organization.

I am convinced that excessive control and management implicitly but constantly convey a mistrust in our employees’ abilities to fulfill the missions we assign them. Thus, the need for control. The ensuing emotions make people act accordingly so that they become increasingly more dependent and hesitant.

A Look at ‘Results Only’ Work Environments (ROWEs)

Some organizations have already taken creative steps toward creating more autonomy and purpose for employees—and with great success.

The ROWE-concept (Results Only Work Environment) of Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson, for example, offers inspiring results.

The core of this concept is an organization where you judge people on their results alone, and otherwise let them be, i.e.:

“Let them decide for themselves when they work, who they work with, and how they work.”

This is evidently not yet an option for every organization. A less extreme, but still somewhat challenging idea is to release a part of their time. 3M, for example, allows employees to work one day per week with whomever they want to, on whatever they want to and where they want to. The result being numerous innovative products, including the famous Post-It.

Why not think of it this way—people have the right to be happy at work.

Next post, I’ll introduce the core values and beliefs of New Leadership, an approach that’s centered on the ideas we’ve looked at today.