Our perception of exceptional leadership has changed over time. Leadership has historically reflected the culture from which it emerged. Different times, different leadership…different culture, different leadership. As times evolve, leadership must evolve to keep step. Unfortunately, the calibration of leadership to dramatic shifts in culture and now, technology and the strategic imperative of creativity throughout the workforce today’s pace of change demands, lags significantly behind such upheavals.
We need not look far for a striking example of this phenomena. Leaders at the helm of business today were, for the most part, molded out of the model of leadership that was optimized for the Industrial Age. Command-and-control leadership, often referred to as transactional leadership, was a highly effective approach for mobilizing and managing tens of thousands of factory workers. Factory workers who were simply an extension of the assembly line. No need for creativity in this environment, simple dexterity and focus on the task-at-hand was the worker’s input to value creation at that time. This approach to leading business activities really took root in the sale function. It was binary; hit your number and you’re rewarded, miss your number and you may be fired. The famous scene with Alec Baldwin from the film, “Glenngary Glen Ross” epitomizes the extremes this type of fear-leveraging created in sales.
We’ve come a long ways in broad fields of technology. I cut my sales teeth in the nascent biotechnology industry in the 1980s in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I was more or less at ground-zero for the seismic shift from an industrial-based economy to the knowledge-based economy. Similar shifts were occurring along the Rt. 128 belt around Boston, dubbed America’s technology highway, as well as in Silicon Valley, the San Francisco Bay area, and in other small pockets around the country and the world. Many of the sales people from that day and age are now at the helm of large organizations. As they gravitated up the command chain, they often became more and more isolated from the frontline trenches of the business. They may have witnessed the birth of this shift, but over time the organizational culture of transactional businesses forced them to focus more on career and managing internal politics than focusing on the needs of their customers and associates, thus losing touch with the very dynamics of value creation in our knowledge based economy.
Technology, and especially science, has progressed to a remarkable degree of granularity of knowledge in many fields. In biotech, for example, I quickly learned researchers were in the separation and isolation business. They were constantly drilling down for a deeper understanding of the fundamental mechanisms of biological function. The combination of investigation, isolation of causality, and experimentation of potential solutions to disease states created an explosion of information and knowledge now being applied today. In leadership, we’ve seen little in advancement over the same period of time. We need to approach leadership with the same level of granularity that we’ve seen in evolve in the sciences.
The good news is the advancements in the sciences is giving us new insights into the neurology of human behavior, the importance of emotional intelligence at work and in life, the role of the Core Mammalian Emotional System, and the power of Applied Behavioral Economics. Integrating the lessons from a broad range of investigative sciences provides us with a much more granular view of what engages and inspires human beings to perform and create at their optimal level. The mountain of peer-reviewed, published research, provides us with ample evidence regarding human behavior. It provides a clear roadmap for how we can lead from both the head and the heart to create highly motivated associates, a thriving, inclusive culture, and mindful, nimble strategies for today’s global economy.
When we integrate all that we’ve learned over the past few years, and look around at our continuous struggles to gain momentum coming out of the Great Recession, we clearly see a need for a new approach to leadership. One that aligns more closely with human nature and that is based upon scientific evidence. A shift from transactional to transformational leadership. An approach of service to those we lead and those our firms’ serve. Humankind’s intellect has outpaced our emotional and psychological evolution, creating a complex, cacophonous world. Until we embrace a more evolved approach to leadership, I’m afraid we’ll continue to struggle our way back to prosperity.
© 2012, Terry Murray.