Organization and leadership models have failed to keep up with the evolution of the workforce. The result? An astonishing under-performance of most organizations and billions of dollars being spent on solutions that fail because they focus on symptoms instead of the real problem.

What has changed:

We are no longer a world of factory workers willing to be cogs in a wheel and be told what to do, how to do it and when to do it. We are an interconnected complex global web of knowledge workers, people who make their living by thinking. Some interesting facts from the McKinsey 2010 Global forces study. In the U.S. alone:

  • 85% of new jobs created in last decade require complex knowledge skills
  • Brain power e.g. Intellectual property, brand value, process know-how, generated more than 70% of all US market value over the past three decades.

The Symptoms We Keep Misinterpreting As The Problem:

We are continually informed by the prevailing journals of leadership that people are becoming more disenfranchised with their leaders and organizations and that what is needed is for leaders  to “drive” more engagement, productivity, innovation and performance.

  • Gallup: engagement is at an all time low. 75% of employees are not engaged, 25% of those actively disengaged/hostile
  • Roper: only 2% of investors believe CEO’s are “very trustworthy”. 72% believe wrong- doing is commonplace in companies
  • Gallup: big business is the societal institution trusted the least by Americans at 16%.
  • Hay Group: Sr. Executives are banking on leaders “driving” increases in productivity, creativity and innovation to meet aggressive 2011 goals. At the same time the majority of them acknowledge that “driving” these increases will cause more disengagement, turnover and hostility…but they are going to do it anyway

The Real Problem:

If you are reading this, you are a knowledge worker. Do you need to be “driven” by a leader to achieve anything? Probably not. And yet:

  • Our current organization and leadership models and structures are still reflective of the 19th and 20th Centuries and operate under the assumption that people need some outside intervention to succeed and would not otherwise do so.
  • They continually fail because they refuse to realize that today’s knowledge workers are people who are self motivated, desire meaning and purpose in life and work, will not tolerate being treated as less than whole, are capable and creative sources of insight, intelligence and creativity.
  • Despite trying, you cannot “drive”, “control”, “command” or “manage” creativity, productivity or innovation. You must inspire it.

4 Common Sense Solutions:

The first thing we need to do is change our assumptions about people. We are all perfectly capable of:

  • Leading ourselves
  • Engaging ourselves
  • Creating and innovating intrinsically
  • Succeeding organically
  • Fulfilling our potential naturally within the context of an organization’s purpose

Second, Redefine organizations. Try this:

Organization: a transpersonal entity that exists to serve a defined purpose in the world which catalyzes the highest level of thinking and behaving in order to achieve its goal. United States President John F. Kennedy had the idea when he said: “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country”. In other words, have a purpose that is bigger than any one person and eliminate the opportunity for dysfunctional egocentric behavior.

An organization defined this way has 3 components:

  • A Vision (the dream)
  • A  Mission (the  purpose)
  • A Business Model (what products and/or services are provided, what customers are served, what problems are solved, how value is created: financially, experientially, socially

Third, redefine/create organization culture in such a way that it creates the context within which people participate and simplifies the complexity inherent in the operation of any organization.

Organization Culture:  The operating system designed to define and enable the necessary behaviors, beliefs and thinking that will prove most efficient in the execution of an organization’s unique reason for existence.  Culture is not the “touchy feely” part of an organization.  It has 6 critical and interdependent components that must be masterfully orchestrated to optimize organization performance:

  • Strategy: the roadmap to achieve the goals
  • People: the technical, leadership skills and behavioral talent needed
  • Values: the moral compass or unique character that guides daily behavior and decision-making
  • Structure: the way in which the interdependent work and people are organized in order to continually sense and respond to markets/changes and execute well
  • Process: the governance that provides clarity and focus on HOW things get done in order to achieve the organization purpose
  • Systems: The mechanisms for collecting real-time information for agile response

Fourth, and most important, Create A New Model of Leadership:

20th Century                                                     21st Century

Adult-child                                                       Adult-adult

Command and control                                    Trust and engage

Leader as necessary driver                           Leader as welcomed catalyst

Individual egos                                                Transpersonal collective intelligence

Predict and control                                         Sense and respond

Drive/Manage                                                 Inspire/allow


When things break down it is not a crisis, it is an opportunity to find more advanced and effective solutions. It only becomes a crisis when we keep trying to solve the problems we face with the same thinking and behavior that created those problems to begin with, which is what we are doing right now.

I spent the first 12 years of my 30 year career with 100-year-old IBM. One of the first things I received when I joined the company was a small notebook designed to be carried around with one word on the cover: THINK.

It is time for us to THINK  in order to evolve our organization and leadership models so that we can unleash the human potential within for the financial, social, emotional, intellectual and environmental good of all.

Copyright 2010, Sheila Madden. All Rights Reserved

1 Comment

  1. Great post! It’s indeed time to think differently. In the U.S. it has to start with transforming our 19th century educational system. Simultaneously leaders can begin adopting the framework you’ve laid out here. A beautiful blueprint for an enlightened org!

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