Leading with Purpose and Trust

The very essence of lead­er­ship is to pro­vide ori­en­ta­tion. That’s why lead­er­ship is cru­cial in agile orga­ni­za­tions. Agili­ty requires ori­en­ta­tion to be effec­tive. With­out this ori­en­ta­tion, agili­ty becomes arbi­trary. It miss­es the align­ment towards a com­mon goal. This rais­es the ques­tion of how lead­er­ship should pro­vide ori­en­ta­tion today. On the one hand steer­ing pre­cise­ly with com­mand and con­trol or on the oth­er hand pro­vid­ing direc­tion with vision and pur­pose and rely­ing on the best pos­si­ble con­tri­bu­tions of the teams. “Pur­pose and Trust over Com­mand and Con­trol” is there­fore the third the­sis of the Man­i­festo for Human(e) Lead­er­ship (you may also sign it on this occa­sion!), which is dis­cussed in more detail in this third part of the explanations.

Autonomous teams are a core ele­ment of agili­ty. The flex­i­bil­i­ty and cus­tomer ori­en­ta­tion for which agile orga­ni­za­tions are so high­ly admired result from the speed with which deci­sions are made in decen­tral­ized self-orga­nized teams. How­ev­er, as Hen­rik Kniberg beau­ti­ful­ly depicts in the graph­ic above, auton­o­my requires ori­en­ta­tion. This ori­en­ta­tion there­fore is impor­tant in mak­ing teams become effec­tive in the sense of the com­mon goal. Exact­ly this, how­ev­er, is the essence of lead­er­ship: Mak­ing oth­ers suc­cess­ful.

Even if employed full-time, few­er and few­er peo­ple are „sub­or­di­nates“ — even in fair­ly low-lev­el jobs. Increas­ing­ly they are „knowl­edge work­ers.“ And knowl­edge work­ers are not sub­or­di­nates; they are „asso­ciates.“ For, once beyond the appren­tice stage, knowl­edge work­ers must know more about their job than their boss does — or else they are no good at all.
Peter F. Druck­er, Management’s New Par­a­digm, 1998

Peter F. Druck­er rec­og­nized quite ear­ly that knowl­edge work­ers must be man­aged dif­fer­ent­ly. Knowl­edge work is char­ac­ter­ized in par­tic­u­lar by the fact that the knowl­edge work­er is the expert and owns his means of pro­duc­tion in the sense of his abil­i­ty and knowl­edge. There­fore, the knowl­edge work­er must be treat­ed and led as an asso­ciate. Agile teams are there­fore only a spe­cial case of this more gen­er­al ques­tion of how to lead knowl­edge work­ers. Peter F. Druck­er’s answer is also rel­a­tive­ly sim­ple: “Knowl­edge work­ers must be led as if they were work­ing on a vol­un­tary basis (oth­er­wise finan­cial­ly secured). If, how­ev­er, the usu­al means of coer­cion are elim­i­nat­ed, all that remains is to offer a pur­pose and a vision to which as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble want to make a vol­un­tary con­tri­bu­tion, because it mat­ters to them.

If you have your Why of life, you get along with almost every How.
Friedrich Niet­zsche

There­fore, the third the­sis of the Man­i­festo for Human(e) Lead­er­ship places more empha­sis on pur­pose and trust than on com­mand and con­trol. At the same time, at the very end of the Man­i­festo it is explained: “That is, while there is val­ue in the items on the bot­tom, we val­ue the high­light­ed items on the top more.” But does com­mand and con­trol real­ly have any val­ue today after the con­sid­er­a­tions just made?

In its pure form in the sense of the boss giv­ing me an instruc­tion with­out fur­ther con­text cer­tain­ly less and less. How­ev­er, besides the ide­al of a com­plete­ly pur­pose-dri­ven, vision­ary lead­er­ship and a mature cul­ture of trust, in which every­one is doing their best to make the vision a real­i­ty, there will cer­tain­ly be some gra­da­tions that are more in the direc­tion of com­mand and con­trol. A con­tem­po­rary inter­pre­ta­tion of com­mand and con­trol is pro­vid­ed by the mil­i­tary’s well-known mis­sion-type tac­tics (lead­ing by mis­sion), in which the goal of the mis­sion and the bound­ary con­di­tions are spec­i­fied, but the actu­al exe­cu­tion is left to those oper­at­ing at the front­line. Con­trol takes place rather in the sense of a com­mon eval­u­a­tion of suc­cess or fail­ure of the result, in order to there­by learn for the next steps.

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By Marcus Raitner

Hi, I'm Marcus. I'm convinced that elephants can dance. Therefore, I accompany organizations on their way towards a more agile way of working. Since 2010 I regularly write about leadership, digitization, new work, agility, and much more in this blog. More about me.

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