Leadership is Broken

Leadership is broken.

Not the people in positions of leadership. It is the concept of leadership, as it is enacted within organisations that is broken. If you’re looking for evidence, you don’t have to look any further than the growing toxicity present in organisations today.

In a recent study by People Acuity, 83% of respondents described their organisations as having moderately or highly toxic cultures. More than this, a full 50% rated their organisations at the highest level of toxicity possible: 10 on a 10-point scale!  When moderate or high toxicity was present, proactivity, engagement, and connection were shown to be virtually non-existent. What does this say about leadership? 

If great leadership does not create toxic cultures, and toxic cultures are what we are seeing, then the current approaches to leadership are inadequate – broken.

Given that toxicity is very much present, change is clearly very much needed.

So, what holds us back from shifting up?

It is common today to think of a company as a large machine. People are the parts and how they work is defined through systems and processes. Managers observe operations and ensure that the parts do their job. When everyone does their jobs, the machine is successful. But what happens when the machine isn’t working quite right? 

If you said “toxicity” you would be right!

In the company-as-machine model leadership often ends up focussed on fixing failures, finding fault, and assigning blame for the breakdown. When management becomes fixated on this, failure becomes more of a yardstick than success. In reality, KPI’s become KFI’s – Key Failure Indicators – as more attention is paid to preventing failure than to truly enhancing performance.

How do we solve this?

The answer is almost too simple: change the model.  It is the company-as-machine model that creates all kinds of toxic dependence (victimization), independence (siloism), and codependence (us vs. them) inside of organizations. It divides, alienates, and separates people, preventing them from truly optimizing and synergizing together.

What is needed is more Interdependent Leadership.

Interdependent Leadership is based upon an understanding that companies are more like organisms than machines. It recognises that all individuals within an organisation are evolving agents who make their own decisions based upon their understanding of themselves, others, and their situations. As their insight grows, so does their ability to contribute to the growth of the organisation.

Interdependent Leadership empowers and aligns individuals to leverage their own strengths to create their own Work Joy, Team Connection, and Proactive Accountability. Interdependent Leaders recognise that they have a limited view of reality and that part of their role is to increase individual awareness of the situation and of others, including what is in their blind spot. They see how important this is if individuals and teams are to truly flourish.

Importantly, Interdependent Leadership can be initiated by anyone in the organization as it does not need hierarchical or positional power to have a positive influence. It recognises that inside an organisation, both tasks and relationships impact each other, and therefore need to be addressed together and balanced effectively. Interdependent Leaders understand that without this, organisations default to task, increasing toxicity.

You may be curious to know the degree to which Interdependent Leadership is present in your organization. If so, there is good news! You can take a free assessment that measures the precursors of Interdependent Leadership. It will help you evaluate the degree to which they are present for you (check out the assessment here, or you can read more here). Perhaps you can be an influencer to help shift the broken concept of leadership.

This article was written by Steve Jeffs – a Top 50 Global Coach who holds a Master Coach Certification (MCC) and a Doctorate in Business Administration – in collaboration with People Acuity thought leaders DeAnna Murphy and Lisa Gregory. Steve is on the faculty for CTI, is a former board member for the ICF, and has led People Acuity’s research for the past nine years. Currently based in the United Arab Emirates, he is the Chief Innovation Officer for People Acuity and a co-author of Shift Up! Strengths Strategies for Optimal Living.