When I work with leaders of organizations and startups, an important part of business coaching is applying what makes teams thrive. Businesses and startups, like any other organization, are systems comprised of individuals. As such, they are heavily influenced by the roles, boundaries, power dynamics, and leadership.
I believe that the best leaders are the ones that empower others to step up into leadership themselves. This can be done through “structuring role assignment, promoting opportunities for participation in decision-making, fostering positive relationships between supervisors and their subordinates, and facilitating collaborative peer relations has implications for personnel training and development across hierarchical positions within human service organizations” (Wallach & Mueller, 2006).
The opposite of this empowerment approach is described in detail by the Arbinger Institute in the book Leadership and self-deception (2010). The term they give it is “putting people in a box”, which basically means not really seeing employees as humans who deserve respect and appreciation but simply as obstacles to completion of goals.
I have definitely been a part of organizations on the extreme sides of that spectrum, as well in more balanced institutions. In my experience, the organizations in which leadership and management did not support their employees, micro-managed them, did not receive feedback well and were either completely disorganized or adhered to rules that were too strict, were the places had a constantly revolving door for employees to come and go, bad atmosphere to work at, and that affected the servicing the clients as well.
On the other hand, when the leaders of the organizations and the management supported each other and the employees, where there was an attitude of collaboration and respect everyone benefited: the organization and the clients.
The ideal balance between leadership and management for me is probably going to be adjusted based on the circumstances. Sometimes one might choose to be a more detail-oriented manager with clear instructions and guidelines, especially when there is a crisis and things just need to get done quickly and efficiently. Generally speaking though, I’d like to train my staff to be self-sufficient while knowing exactly what is expected of them. Within the clear instructions and guidelines, I believe there is a space for stepping up and leading innovation and collaboration by the staff members, as well as advocating for creating change in the way things are being done (procedures).
A good and efficient system is one that is structured as a balance between positive feedback loops (the organization is open and flexible for change based on external and internal information) and negative feedback loops (the system is highly structured and does not allow destabilization from inside or outside). Just like the strongest bridge structures are built from strong but semi-flexible materials, organizations, especially in the mental health space that is all about serving others, should be adaptable to change in order to succeed, but also have a clear structure, requirements, and processes:
"The entire system is governed by feedback loops which perform regulation and control; negative feedback tends to stabilize systems, while positive feedback tend to destabilize systems. Positive feedback may give way to pronounced change behaviors, while negative feedback counters the volatile change of positive feedback. Together, negative and positive feedback can produce system equilibrium." (Hecker, Mims, & Boughner, 2003).
This adaptability and openness to feedback from others definitely should include management and leadership. In a sense, this is the transformation that the main character is going through in Leadership and self-deception (2010): from being inflexible and closed-minded, the new manager is being trained to open his mind not just to the strengths of others but also to his own limitations. While the character is being trained to adopt a more human outlook on his employees, that is being done in a highly procedural way, and all the employees of the company go through the same training: in this way, paradoxically, openness is one of the undisputed core values of the organization.
Wallach, V. A., & Mueller, C. W. (2006). Job characteristics and organizational predictors of psychological empowerment among paraprofessionals within human service organizations: An exploratory study. Administration in Social Work, 30(1), 95-115.
Carson, R. (2010). Leadership and self deception by the Arbinger Institute.
Hecker, L. L., Mims, G. A., & Boughner, S. R. (2003). General systems theory, cybernetics, and family therapy. An introduction to marriage and family therapy, 39-62.