New Leadership, Part 5: Setting Boundaries and Giving Space

In my last post, I discussed the ‘pecking order’ mentality that can often subconsciously drive our behaviors. I wrote about how these learned, yet unconscious and emotionally-guided behaviors often keep us from letting employees (and ourselves) be driven naturally toward autonomy, craftsmanship, and purpose.

The struggle for our place in the pecking order takes place visibly and under the surface in all forms of cooperation between people. I think this explains why the daily reality in our organizations is quite different from the ideal image of a group of intelligent, sensitive people striving for autonomy, craftsmanship, and purpose.

Instead, the daily reality is a mixture of that pursuit and struggle for a good place in the pecking order, dealing with our own (sub-conscious) anxiety and uncertainties, creating self-esteem and (self) respect, etc. This is why employees and managers are often defensive.

It is my firm conviction that, as we acquire additional insight and understanding of human rationale, we come increasingly closer to Motivation 3.0, the model in which employees strive for autonomy, craftsmanship, and purpose.

Redefining Resistance To Change

As leaders, we need to be aware of the impact of our reptilian and mammalian brain. And even before this, we need to abolish the concept of resistance.

Where there is change, there will always be resistance; I think that “resistance” has been usually given this connotation. I would like to re-define “resistance” as the expression of fair and often useful concerns, and “change” as the management of these concerns. After all, they are the result of the internal dynamics in every person, as described in the previous article.

With this in mind, my advice would be this: Listen, listen, listen and especially try to actually reduce such concerns – that would represent a great step forward for all of us.

Don’t Ignore Emotions

I would also like to emphasize that we shouldn’t ignore the impact of our reptilian and mammalian brains.

Much of our behavior originates from the more primitive parts of our brains and is often purely aimed at acquiring (or undermining) power and position. Therefore, unfortunately, it remains necessary for almost every manager to show his teeth every now and then and ensure that boundaries are very clear.

While future leadership will only be aimed at a positive approach of people, I estimate that New Leadership will for some time be based on the diversity in human behavior: The entire spectrum between being focused on self-actualization on the one hand and on free primary responses on the other.

New Leadership is therefore aimed at two aspects:

  • Making it clear that there are boundaries from certain power and dominance positions; and
  • Giving autonomy within boundaries: coaching toward craftsmanship, facilitating purpose, being attentive to concerns, and removing boundaries.

New Leadership Principles

In my next post, I’ll introduce the Management Funnel – a concept that can help leaders use this idea of insight when setting boundaries at work.