What comes to mind when you think of leadership?
For many, it’s someone at the top who makes decisions and pushes them down throughout their organization unilaterally. Recent days at Twitter and Elon Musk’s leadership style come to mind. Their autocratic ways happen without much input or discussion from the people in the middle of the company. Feedback, indeed, does not emanate from anyone on the frontlines. The leader’s behavior devolves the organization into a culture of fear. How is this good for the customer experience?
What if organizations changed from this antiquated and megalomaniac model to start leading from the middle and the frontline level? The heroic leadership model is failing. If you ask Glain Roberts-McCabe, founder and president of The Roundtable, she would tell you that’s precisely what needs to start happening.
“We have to get our heads wrapped around the idea that one leader cannot be everything,” she told me in an interview. “If we don’t start creating these strategic networks, ways to build collective leadership, and curating collective intelligence within our leadership groups, we’re going to be in trouble.”
People have it so engrained that you go to school, graduate, get a job, work hard, and do whatever it takes to move up the ranks. Yet, you have somehow failed if you can’t get to the top. We see leaders who have risen through the ranks—and worked incredibly hard to get there—but someone along the way forgot how to be human. While today’s leaders must be laser-focused on results and profitability, far too many people within their organization seem to get pushed aside and fall to the bottom during their journey.
Whoever can keep up with such inhumanity by the leader is welcome to partake in this miserable rat race of isolation, unhealthy habits, and, ultimately, burnout. Fun times, indeed.
“I think what the pandemic has done is shed a lot of light on the lack of leadership and focus within organizations,” Roberts-McCabe said. For example, when non-essential workers are told to go home or work remotely for several years and then are forced to return to the office (Exhibit B: Twitter and Musk, again) for no real reason, tensions rise, and people leave. “These are lazy solutions,” says Roberts-McCabe. Leaders shouldn’t just check that box; instead, they should think about what’s most important for how the organization should work.
“There’s a big movement right now about being human-centered,” she offered. “We need both leaders that have empathy and drive results. But unfortunately, we have very outdated models that are built on command and control. ‘If I’m in the chair [as the supreme leader], that must equal productivity,’ and we know it does not.”
How do we shift to creating work cultures that are more humane and caring while continuing to grow in profitability? “Leaders have to learn to balance results and people, and if they sit high on the see-saw on one end, then they need to be hyper-intentional about the other,” suggested Roberts-McCabe.
Group coaching is one of the unique offerings she extends to her clients to help them make the change. Group coaching helps improve an individual’s leadership skills and behaviors to help them become more well-rounded in a peer environment.
“With group coaching, you’re working with people with similar ambitions but different leadership styles,” said Roberts-McCabe. “Leadership is situational. What will allow you to be a hyper-successful leader in one environment could be your downfall in another. Every strength a leader has comes with a corresponding liability. So, when you bring leaders together who have different ways of thinking and looking at things, and you’re all going through a prescribed curriculum together, you’re going to grow and evolve together as a group, but you’re also getting that all-important connectivity.”
With group coaching, there is accountability, growth, and an expectation to contribute. It can bring in a systemic change and allow those leaders to engage in critical thinking, which will ultimately enable them to shift their thoughts and ideas and what is on their desks to prioritize things more strategically.
Where does this leave us with young leaders? “I’m seeing a greater pull towards what I would describe as ‘shared leadership’ amongst this group,” she pointed out. “They are much more collaborative and less command and control. One of the challenges that Gen Z will face is this need to conform to groups because of a fear of ‘cancel culture.’”
We don’t want to see these young leaders rise without knowing that failure is okay. “People need to try new and different things in their career, and you might not be successful, but that is what will lead them to their passions,” she said.
Roberts-McCabe is spot on. The example currently playing out at Twitter might be one of 2022’s best (or worst) case studies on the matter.
Watch the interview with Glain Roberts-McCabe and Dan Pontefract in full below or listen to it via the Leadership NOW series podcast.
Check out my award-winning 4th book, “Lead. Care. Win. How to Become a Leader Who Matters.” Thinkers50 #1 rated thinker, Amy. C. Edmondson of Harvard Business School, calls it “an invaluable roadmap.” Publishing in October 2023, a new book: Work-Life Bloom. (You won’t want to miss it.)