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Leadership: Leaders need members – optimizing versus maximising

I’m an expert on business innovation. I help businesses innovate their business more quickly than they innovate their products. What that means is I help businesses modernize their leadership to become more coaching and co-constructive. I help businesses create cooperation across silos. I help businesses engage their customers, to co-create their products. And I help businesses to integrate their commercial and their innovation functions, so that they can actually sell, what they make.

One of my favourite topics is leadership. Leadership in all sorts of forms and all sorts of variations. One of the things that I distinguish is leadership as a relationship, rather than leadership as a position. What does it mean if you take a certain rank within an organization? And at the relational level: Can you be a leader without followers?

Leaders and members

One of the important equations in that is that we have to teach leaders to be leaders and members to be members. And there is actually very little literature and research and training on how to be a good member of a group. For me, being a good member means three things.

Structural Level

The first thing at the most obvious level is that you have agreed to be a member, and that means that there is a certain level of adaptation you have to the rules within that system. It means that you respect the time, the place, the role and the task boundaries within that system. Very practically, it means things like I’ll come on time. I’ll negotiate what is asked of me. If I say yes, I’ll do it. If I can’t, I’ll tell the leadership I can’t and think of options. It means I respect the role that I have in this system, which is invaluable, and the role that leadership has in the system, which is also invaluable.

It means I will show up where we’ve agreed to show up as a member. So, this is really talking about membership at the structural level. What does it mean?

Relational Level

Often, we also have to take into consideration that leadership and membership is a relationship. So, what does that mean if you’re in the relationship with a leader as a member?

It means I guess that you accept interdependence. That you accept that a leader has a job to do and that you have a job to do. And in a business, it often means that the leader is responsible for optimizing what happens in a system, where a member might be focused on maximizing. I will translate that for you.

Members in a system want to do the best they can. They naturally want to achieve, and so they’ll go for a 100% or 200%. A leader is responsible for many members, and so gets all these maximized invitations, and has some how to balance that with the well-being of the system as a whole, hence optimising.

For instance, members come with, “I want this much budget.” And the other person says, “I also want a 100% of the budget.” And a leader really has to go, “Look, for the well-being of the system, we have to balance these requests to optimize our functioning as a team.”

I guess what I’m saying is that as a member you have to understand that there are different perspectives in this relationship, and that though your part of it is to go for maximum, the leader has to go for an optimum and that it doesn’t say anything about his or her relationship to you.

Psychodynamic Level

At the psychodynamic level, membership means once I accept the belonging to a system, I’m in or I’m out. So, I guess at that level it really means clarity about the fact that you belong to that system or that team. And perhaps you belong to many, many different teams in life. You’re a member of the volleyball club and the tennis club and you’re a member of the organization and you may be a member of a voluntary group.

If you accept to be a member, you’re in.

One of the myths of membership is: “I am a member when I can be completely myself”. It is a myth because anytime you decide to belong to any group or team or system, it means that you also accept that there is a certain level of adaptation you have to do.

These things, being a member at the structural level, so accepting the boundaries. Being a member at the relational level, which means accepting that there is maximization and optimization. And being a member at the psychodynamic level, which means that you accept that for belonging, there’s also a certain level of adaptation.

These three areas are things that we as team coaches have to educate people about.

I think this is the next frontier. Because if I look at the world today, maybe we’ve taught people to be leaders, but we are losing the capacity to be members.


Further Reading: To be agile you have to align your organisational structures vertically

Published On: May 14th, 2019By Categories: Leadership


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