I have been working from home now for about 6 weeks I think (all these weeks seem to be merging into one). I did not like it at first, I felt disconnected from everything, I felt I had to be attached to my computer, just in case someone tried to contact me, and I felt guilty for not being at my workplace. The feeling of guilt was the most profound, even though I was working just as hard if not harder, working from home. The perception of working from home in our organisation is still problematic, with this underlying and often unspoken issue of trust. Many managers are struggling to trust that staff are being as productive as they could be when working from home.
Now I am not criticising managers for these assumptions, for many managers this is something they have learned. Not from formal leadership courses, or from professional training, but from their predecessors, peers, and from their environment. It is part of the workplace paradigm. This paradigm is slowly diminishing, but it has be so widespread and pervasive for so long that it is going to take some time and a lot of to shift all of our paradigms.
The leader/follower paradigm in my words
When I was writing the sentence…Many managers are struggling to trust that staff are being as productive…. I started writing…. are struggling to trust their staff… Then I realised I had fallen in to the leader/follower paradigm trap, it is after all so pervasive. Leadership in our culture and in many (but not all) is linked with the cult of personality. We hold up the charismatic leader as the ideal. Leadership requires strength, knowledge and decisiveness, do you agree? Are there types of people that make better leaders? Are these people somehow better than the rest of us? Are they more powerful? Are they more trustworthy? You are probably saying no. How many times then do you hear managers say their staff, when talking about the workforce in their team? How many times have you gone along with that?
In many workplaces there is parent/child (leader/follower) relationship with managers and staff. Which when it is a nurturing relationship can be quite pleasant, and staff feel loved and cared for. When I was a ward manager every Christmas I would buy the ward special Christmas food to go in the staff room. When staff were having problems they would come to me, and would put my arm around them and try to solve it for them. When things were going well it was a lovely comfortable place to work. When it was not going well things could go unresolved, until I would get annoyed then the relationship would turn from nurturing to chastising. Neither relationships promote productivity, innovation, and self efficacy. I loved my staff but I did not completely trust them to do the right thing. Much like my relationship with my children when they were younger, I loved them but I could not always trust them to play nice when I was not looking. The staff in teams though are not toddlers. Teams are mostly populated by motivated, responsible, skilled adults. If they are not, then I suggest you have a look at your recruitment processes. If they are responsible adults and therefore equal ( not in pay, but certainly in status as a Human Being), then should we not treat them like adults and trust and encourage them to make informed decisions.
The leader/leader approach
I have mentioned David Marquet before and his book Turn The Ship Around (I highly recommend it). David Marquet is a retired US Navy Submarine Captain. The book describes how he shifted his leadership style from a leader/follower approach to a leader/leader approach, and took his submarine crew from the worst rated crew in the navy to the top rated crew in the navy. In the book he describes the difficulties he encountered trying to achieve this. He experienced opposition and resistance from all angles and even struggled with his own instincts. What it shows is that if you work form the premise that the team members are capable to make decisions in their sphere of knowledge and experience, and that team members when they believe and understand the purpose of the team and buy in to that will work really hard to live up to that and achieve the goals of the team. What I find helps is seeing everybody in the team as equal members, every team member has their sphere of influence and expertise which fit together to produce the body of work for the team. The leader is there to serve the team to enable them to produce the best outcomes they can. The team are not there to serve the leader. The leader does not have ownership or patronage over the team.
The concept of the leader/leader approach is to assume that all team members have a leadership role and for the benefit of the team must be encouraged and allowed to exercise that leadership. The role of the overall leader is to keep the team on track to achieving their goals and holding the individual leaders to account for the role they play in that.
To have teams that can work effectively remotely there has to be high levels of trust through out the team. The manager must trust that team members are working hard towards achieving their goal. Team members must trust each other to show leadership in their areas of expertise and trust their managers will support them to achieve their goals.
The first step towards a leader/leader model is to shift our paradigm of leadership as a charismatic powerful individual. Leadership is a team approach.
If you want to know more about this model, Turn the Ship Around, by L.David Marquet is a great place to start.