It is most often associated with place – the cities or neighbourhoods in which we live and work. It is used to define our interest groups – social entrepreneurs, physicians, and professionals, or cyclists, quilters, and Star Wars fanatics. Some communities come together around major events, such as the Olympic Games, and then dissolve. Others endure, like service clubs or alumni associations.
One group that isn’t often thought of as a “community” is the employees of an organization. Yet like any other community, they are self-governing, social and share a cultural history. By framing the organization as a community, leaders of all stripes, and especially social entrepreneurs, provide for themselves a useful lens to think about how they can engage the people around them to further their progress, growth and success.
Authority & openness
No leader retains authority by secret-keeping. Countless examples throughout social and corporate history have lead to the downfall of many a leader: Richard Nixon; Rupert Murdoch; Macbeth!
In the organizational context, siloed teams and “need to know” management approaches are over, at least in organizations that aim to be as agile as today’s markets demand. In Junxion’s experience, working with an incredible range of organizations, small startup to multinational corporate, and lean social enterprise to international NGO, two team insights are repeatedly clear.
First, there’s a clear correlation between secret-keeping among leaders and turnover among managers. In 2009, we worked with a mid-sized private company that was growing rapidly, and approaching 100 staff. The three family members who owned the business were eager to grow it, but struggled to learn how to empower their team to drive that organizational development.
The CEO chose comfortable, command and control approaches. Information silos entrenched as the management team lobbied for their own needs and goals. Ultimately, the CEO failed to unite his leadership group, and sadly, our predictions about the consequences of this approach came true: Within a year, half of his executive team had resigned, business had slowed significantly, and layoffs were inevitable. Today the company employs fewer than 20 people.
Conversely, the more organizations embrace transparency and openness internally, the stronger their reputations in the marketplace. Also in 2009, Wikipedia launched a special wiki asking for community input into their own strategic planning. Over the following two years, more than 900 ideas were volunteered, a strategic vision and plan was developed, and work teams formed to begin its implementation. Wikipedia, in characteristic form, tapped the “wisdom of the crowd” to solve its trickiest challenge. In doing so, they developed a strategic plan they could not have developed in-house, while simultaneously engaging their core audience and boosting their loyalty to Wikipedia.
People want to be involved. So skilled leaders use “control” carefully, instead focusing on creating the conditions for their organizational community to thrive.
Liberating excellence through servant leadership
Leadership is most often about having the humility to recognize that the people around us are smarter, more experienced or simply more capable than we are. Celebrated US President John Kennedy was famously cited for saying his intent with his Cabinet was to “surround himself with people smarter than him, and then let them do their jobs.”
Engaging leaders foster others’ development, so they develop skills, confidence and capacity in the people around them. They cultivate meaningful opportunities for those around them to contribute.
Ultimately, servant leadership is a profoundly effective mode that facilitates environments of collaboration and cooperation – goals on the tip of every leader’s tongue today. In turn, this ensures each member of the community can access the resources they need to fulfill their responsibilities, and collectively to move the organization forward toward its vision.
Of particular note, effective leaders focus on creating environments that support individuals as whole people; they look beyond the immediate challenges of daily work or professional roles, to the personal and even spiritual or emotional lives of their people. Gone are the days when managers simply delegated tasks and waited for their “direct reports” to carry out their missives. Now, flatter organizational structures, in combination with strategic and management transparency engage people in leadership decision-making.
The five dimensions of leadership
Social entrepreneurs’ capacity to engage others is interwoven with their skills of self-leadership. And both are vital if the leader and their organizational community is to achieve measurable results, which will be the third topic in this five-part series on social enterprise leadership.
Catch up on the rest of Mike’s Leadership Series:
Mike Rowlands leads Junxion Strategy’s Vancouver office and is well known as the “CEO Whisperer.” Specialising in TrustBrand development for social ventures, and outreach and engagement for responsible businesses, Mike works to accelerate the potential of social entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs.