ResponsiveOrg – the role of the leader in responsive organisations

Responsive orgI recently attended the first unconference of #responsiveorg ( which was held on Saturday 10 May in Hub Westminster, London.  It was great to see people from many different fields coming together in what they called a vendor-agnostic way (ie this is about ideas not about selling a certain route) to discuss the future of organisations.  The event used Open Space to organise itself, and I convened a session on the ‘role of the leader in a responsiveorg’.  Here are the notes from a lively 45 minutes:

  • Hierarchy or not? Is hierarchy bad? Not necessarily.  We think of the military as hierarchical, but actually the military is distributed but within clear boundaries.   Currently people work up the chain – would be good to have leaders who can show and empower
  • Difference between managers and leaders: Leaders for projects etc – anyone can be a leader.  WL Gore company – a leader is someone who has followers – so can you be appointed a leader?  Control is sought by leaders (sometimes).  ‘Moving up’ is seen as desirable – how to offer progression?  Training is often to help you move up – how can we offer different kinds of progression.  Language is important – mgrs. V leaders.  Identity level, what prevents people who are leaders being flexible.  Doing your job as well as you can – as opposed to moving up
  • The true leaders are often not at the top of the hierarchy… people of influence.  Conflict between leadership as badge and leadership as responsibility – support people andtake the flak if it goes wrong.  Invite your workforce – its not about the grade, smart people come at every level. Listen and respond to workkforce.
  • Psychopathy in the workplace – 20% of board level leaders are psychopaths (apparently) compared to 4% of the general population…aggressive methods – which are then taken by others and worked with.  Create system where people can do their best work, the leader provides context.  Is this about purpose?
  • Step up and start the fire then step back – some one from the top starts the fire then coaches etc
  • Role models – Reinventing Organisations book – connecting individual and org passions and capabilities. Green dot (active supporters) and yellow dot (wait and see) leaders meeting up – join it up.  There is never a leadership vacuum in an org – it may end up somewhere but that’s a sign of poor behaviour elsewhere
  • Open source organisations – leaders are often benevolent dictators, constantly going ‘this is what we do’ but not micromanaging.  Yes – dictator re values but then sitting back and letting people get on.
  • Military – commander’s intent – need to understand where B (the goal) is then be flexible in the field.  Simon Sinek’s book Start With Why – people lose the why and get stuck in the routine.
  • The bozo revolution – people are brought in without understanding.  Outside influences like unions? Bob Crow was the ‘why’ for many members – what is impact of these outside  leaders?  Bob Crow was always passionate and had simple messages – does give influence.  If the leader leaves – how to fill the vacuum.
  • Question – setting it up and letting people run – what to do if they run in the wrong direction?  What usually happens us that nobody runs at all… if they are running in the wrong direction its often because mismatch of values etc.  In org with massive growth – open sessions every month or two to look at whats working etc – everyone feeling they have a part in creating what is being done
  • Need to embrace failure and keep moving – if no failure then everyone thinks the  status quo is ok.  The ‘Church of fail’ – a monthly chance to applaud failing in a company (to huge applause!).  Exploring what happens to teams who don’t fail – teams get stuck.  Away from vs towards re failure – preventing failure vs moving forwards – leadership is more about the latter, management can be the former.
  • Targets can reduce experimenting – as people will stick with what works reliably to meet targets.  ‘20% time’ – to be creative.
  • ‘Can you stop answering questions with a question!’ – when people say this, it’s a sure sign that people want some framework.
  • Market demands quarterly results which are predictable – this drives all kinds of things.  Own the outcome not the activity – this thing by this date, get the hell out of the way unless… commitment based management

Thanks to the 25 or so folks who joined me for a great session!  And thanks to Charles Fenoughty (@Cfenoughty) for helping with the notes.

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