Times of change are times of uncertainty. A typical reaction to this uncertainty is the call for heroes and strong leaders who bring order into chaos and show the way. On a societal and political level, we are therefore witnessing a strengthening of nationalist tendencies and the increasing popularity of politicians whose contribution consists essentially in unduly simplifying the complexity of the world by dividing it into black and white, good and wrong, us and them and other false dichotomies. In times of digital disruption, fear also increases in companies. And while in many places a strong leader is then desired, really strong leaders like Vas Narasimhan at Novartis do the opposite: “Unboss your Company!”
The naive and intuitive use of language sometimes mixes and overlays things that should be clearly distinguished. Popular among editors are, for example, the terms apparently and seemingly. The former means that something probably is in fact as it appears, while the latter means that something seems to be that way, but in reality is not the case. Seemingly (sic!) just as subtle is the distinction between the terms complicated and complex. In practice, they are often used synonymously, or at best complex is used as the superlative of complicated. The distinction between these two terms, however, makes a significant difference.
Leadership no longer means command and control. It is no privilege, but rather a service. And this service is to empower and enable people to lead themselves independently in the sense of the whole and thereby make those people successful. The transformation to new leadership necessarily begins with the individual and his assumptions about human nature. But this transformation inevitably irritates the organization and its culture. This new understanding of leadership, as described in the Manifesto for Human(e) Leadership, will be dismissed as laziness, incompetence or irresponsibility, as it aims at making itself unnecessary and thus challenges the grasping and sometimes frantic activity of traditional management.
Children are awesome. And sometimes they are an awesome challenge. To be honest, our two daughters are this every single day – more than once. Young children in particular express their insatiable desire for self-determination without restraint. Especially when we as parents, for good reasons or because time is pressing, want to control them and demand obedience. However, they react to our threats and manipulation attempts all the more rigorously with refusal, the more forcefully we put these forward. This is exhausting, but in essence also very good, because the point is not obedience and subordination, but rather personal responsibility and (self-)discipline – neither when it comes to bringing up children nor in other leadership situations.
Successful collaboration in the age of knowledge work, especially in agile organisations with their high degree of self-organisation and self-responsibility, depends to a large extent on the assumptions about human nature. Douglas McGregor stated as early as 1963 in his seminal book “The Human Side of Enterprise” that we should no longer regard people as lazy and reluctant to work (Theory X), but as intrinsically motivated and willing to perform (Theory Y). McGregor clearly builds on the work of Abraham Maslow, which meanwhile has become an indispensable part of management literature in the form of the hierarchy of needs named after him. However, the representation in the form of a pyramid is a misleading interpretation that Maslow did not come up with himself.