Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Interactive Leadership, the Associate and the Leader-Follower

Business Week 10/2/06 cites a study by CO2 Partners: Managers seeking advice tend to ignore lower grade workers, the one's who "actually make the stuff or are dealing with customers," which conclusion is supported by survey data.

Employees who say their bosses "often" ask them for advice:
  • Those with high school diploma or less, 24%
  • College graduates, 54%
  • Those earning less than $25,000 annually, 30%
  • Those earning more than $75,000 annually, 52%
These results reminded me of some of my observations in an earlier post, Interactive Leadership and how that relates to the concept of The Leader-Follower.

I'm associating a boss's "often asking for advice" with the boss stopping leading for a while and by inquiring, placing the employee in a temporary position of leadership. By drawing on some aspect of the employee's expertise and experience, by asking for advice and listening, the boss is adopting a follower role. Without this flexibility on the part of the boss, we get into a "chain of command" process in which the boss protects his power of position, using it to control the employee who does whatever appears appropriate to retain his or her job.

As I write, I am recognizing yet again the power our language holds over us and how it can promote the declining values of our culture rather than those which are new and vibrant. "Boss" and "employee" are incongruent. The only boss I know who is not an employee is a board member - a CEO is an employee and so is a Vice President or Director even while they can also be described as bosses. Ideally, every employee is a leader-follower, giving advice and receiving it as necessary to accomplish the organizational or team objectives. Fortunately, there is new language emerging. W.L. Gore among others now use the term "associate," de-emphasizing distinctions of positional power and highlighting the association brought about by shared objectives.

I believe the associate role implies interactive leadership and I want to briefly explore that in reference to A Vision of Leadership (now Leadership for Collaboration and Innovation).

In the "associate" concept, the values lead and follow are united by respect which permits the interchangeability of leader and follower roles, the interaction of leader and follower or interactive leadership. An associate is a leader-follower.

In an organization in which position power differentials still exist, interactive leadership supports healthier information exchanges than are possible with pure command and control or transactional leadership. In a collaboration or leaderless team where position power is absent, however, contributions become even more effective. In this way, interactive leadership can occur both in an organization and a collaboration and in each case this is possible when those involved perceive themselves as leader-followers.

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