In settings where team performance is highly valued, a leader who encourages open exchanges, collaborations and collective creativity provides a new culture and becomes an enabler of productivity. Ursula M. Burns, the chief executive of Xerox, was quoted in The New York Times on this new approach when she said, “I want (Xerox) employees to take more initiative and be more fearless and frank with one another. … We’re family, so we can disagree.”
The interactive transformational leadership practiced by women developed over a period of time from learning to manage up.
The way organizations operate today is a product of the forces of rapid economic and technological change, an economic shift to a post-industrial, global economy, a work force that is diverse and evenly divided between men and women and the investment market emphasis on short-term profits that contributed to the current recession. Collectively, these forces have dismantled many old dysfunctional operating systems.
Driven by competition, organizations met these challenges by restructuring. They took advantage of the new information-sharing technologies to bring together in work teams, either physically or virtually, people with differing backgrounds, information sets, resources, perspectives and problem-solving skills. The approach worked so well that firms were able to raise productivity and profits while simultaneously reducing the layers of corporate bureaucracy, trimming the number of long-term employees and cutting back on benefits.
Much of the organizational work today, particularly the creative work, takes place in teams because, done right, the result is a collective creativity. But work teams are effective only when people buy into the organizational goals in a cooperative endeavor and the organization delegates power to the team to go ahead and solve problems.
The problem organizations have is that as they restructured employee trust eroded. Queried in 2009, more than half of American workers said they did not trust their organization’s leaders. An even higher percentage said their employer had violated a contractual relationship. A survey in January found that more than 60 percent of employees said they would leave for another job if they had the chance.
The organizational dilemma is obvious. Companies needed to find team leaders who excel at bringing people together and motivating them to solve problems, leaders who can create a climate of trust in a work team and themselves be entrusted with power.
What many firms are finding is that this means they need a new type of leader: one with an interactive, open style of leadership that is based on skilled communication.
Because this is exactly the job approach that many women cultivated so their talent, experience, education and work skills would not be brushed aside by gender bias, they are moving into these new positions of leadership in organizations. These women will be instrumental in putting our economy back on track.
What steps can you take to begin cultivating the skills to move into one of the transformational leadership opportunities in your company? Begin by managing up, building trust one step at a time.
- Know your job. Be so good at it that everyone in your work setting understands that you know what you are talking about.
- Figure out what your company needs to be successful. Do your homework.
- Network throughout the organization. Build relationships with people who understand your ability to get things done.
- Go where the action is. Join work teams and contribute in a collaborative way. When you think you are ready and the opportunity presents itself, don’t bypass a chance to lead.
- Focus on the task at hand and the goals of your team and organization. Remember, it is always professional, never personal. Avoid getting sidetracked into pushing your own agenda and personal interests.
- Articulate clearly what you and your team need to achieve its goals. Enlist your supervisor, keep him or her informed, leverage his or her strengths and talents in carrying out the team objectives, and make sure that the supervisor knows you appreciate and acknowledge the value he or she adds to the team.
Dorothy Perrin Moore, Ph.D., is professor emerita of business and entrepreneurship at The Citadel. The Job Coaches are experienced volunteers from the Center for Women’s Job Counseling Program. Ask them a question by calling 843-763-7333 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like further assistance, make an appointment; a donation of $20 is requested for appointments.
First appeared in the Moxie section of The Post and Courier Friday, February 26, 2010.