The secret of ladders and leaders

Where are the leaders?

There are many reasons why people should do more to make better use of human ingenuity. Seldom were the challenges to humanity so great: life-threatening heatwaves and flooding related to global warming as well as the need for energy transition, to mention a few, demand the utmost of innovation power. At the same time, economies are stressed: debt rates are at an all-time-highs and productivity, especially in Europe, is low. In the face of the challenges, we must learn to do more with fewer means.

Innovative solutions serve the interest of humanity as well as the self-interest of enterprises and public institutions. Unfortunately, many leaders today have difficulties in motivating personnel to adopt new ways of working. New ways, which lead to innovation and higher productivity. Instead, many leaders rely on their staff´s initiatives for change and consent to moderate outcomes. Our times call for quantum change; where are the leaders?

A problem that can be solved

On the surface of it, leaders who fail to mobilize staff, appear to be the very opposite of leaders. There are, however, rational justifications for that. Many of the leaders who rely on their staff for change, rather than the other way around, tell me that if they would be too demanding of their personnel, they might be left with a smaller workforce. The tight job market leaves professionals with plenty of opportunities, where they can have it their way.

This is a problem that can and must be solved.

Leaders can be laughed at

In his autobiography, long walk to freedom, Nelson Mandela describes the practices of the regent of the village where he grew up and who he considers his model for leadership. Just as today´s leaders, this regent was in the habit of carefully consulting his people. When the tribe elders gathered for a meeting, the regent would listen to everybody´s opinions. He took a whole day for that and urged people to bring up everything they found important. When participants would criticise him, he just listened. When he was laughed at, he himself laughed the hardest. In a way the regent just let people walk over him. At the end of the day, however, having heard everybody´s opinions and having shared everybody´s feelings, the regent could be sure that he was on top of everything that was of importance.

Naturally most leaders shy away from the prospect of being laughed at. However, Mandela’s example shows that being laughed at does not jeopardize authority. Leadership stands or falls with something else.

While almost all people feel the need to be heard and contribute to change, only a minority feels the natural authority to take responsibility for it. This is what distinguishes leadership from compliance. Through careful interviews, you build confidence that the challenges are in good hands. This comes with a bonus. Trusted leaders receive support for solutions that go beyond people’s ideas. This enables them to look for ever better solutions and to find people who are happy to help with implementation.

The solutions that served Mandela´s hometown differ from the solutions we need today. The leadership we need to get there is the same.

The leader is a ladder

Mandela was a colourful man. He united black and white and served his country and humanity by his example. He endured 27 years of imprisonment, and at the end of his long walk to freedom still listened to his adversaries and took responsibility for a peaceful transition to democracy. 

The words “leader” and “ladder” share a common etymological root. This makes sense. The leader is a ladder in so far as s*he allows others to walk over him to reach a higher goal. The leader is not on top of the ladder, the leader is like a ladder that enables individuals and communities to solve the challenges of their times. 

The challenges of our times are new and enormous, but leaders can rely on examples that can inspire them to indeed listen to people and then take responsibility for a creative process of changing gears and reaching higher goals.

Contact us today, if you want to find out how we can contribute with solutions, like Innovation FLOW and Projects Portfolio FLOW, to reach higher goals. Also, if you want to find out how to make an end to inertia and make leadership work in your organisation, we will be happy to share our knowledge.

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