Until recently, the concept of a compassionate and collaborative leader was regarded as an exception rather than the norm. But with the tsunami of changes that have occurred since COVID-19 and The Great Resignation, it has now been propelled to the top of the must-have list for any successful leader. Not only does a successful leader need to inspire their team(s), but they also need to enable employees to think and act like entrepreneurs.
As a society, we need to break away from the traditional management mindset that leaders are at the top of the organizational pyramid and instead think about leadership as a shared responsibility. There is no such thing as a leaderless organization, but there could be an organization where many employees could step up as leaders.
As we enter a new era of work, the question is not whether your organization can survive in a post-Covid world. The question is whether an organization can thrive and prosper.
Great leadership combines vision, experience, empathy, and empowerment. A leader must provide a vision that enables their employees to see themselves in their future success and provide an experience that allows them to learn from their mistakes so they don’t repeat them while having empathy for others who also make mistakes. Finally, leaders should give their employees the authority to make decisions independently without micro-managing.
My 5-Level ‘The Management Shift’ framework (also known as The Emergent Leadership Model), shown in Figure 1, maps individual mindset and organizational culture on a five-level scale from Level 1 (with a lifeless mindset and apathetic culture) to Level 5 (with a limitless mindset and unbounded culture). These levels are also called management maturity stages and correspond to the different stages of an entrepreneurial mindset.
Individuals and organizations can go up the levels only one level at a time. Many organizations have pockets of different levels, but the overall level is primarily determined by the level of leaders and a critical mass of employees.
Most organizations operate from around Level 3 or lower, which is one of the main reasons for low levels of engagement, innovation, fulfillment, and profit in many organizations. When leaders and their organizations anchor at Level 4, everything changes – from performance, productivity, and engagement to customer satisfaction and profits.
Employees at Level 4 can occasionally reach Level 5, where the mindset becomes limitless, and the culture is unbounded. Levels 4 and 5 provide an environment where companies can experience more creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurial attitudes thrive.
How can you ‘unleash the power of an entrepreneurial employee mindset?’ The answer is simple: think from a Level 4 perspective. Think from a mindset that assumes every employee wants to contribute to the success of your business and help it grow. Think about everything you do at work in the context of how it either enables or disables someone’s entrepreneurial mindset.
Here is an example of a Level 3 leadership mindset: You’re in a meeting, and someone has an idea. What happens next? If you are in a controlled and orderly environment, the leader will hear the idea, ask for more details and maybe approve it.
In a Level 4 example, the situation would be quite different. In an open and collaborative environment, employees contribute their thoughts and ideas, and the team collaborates to find the best solution.
Level 4 thinking can provide a fundamental breakthrough for individuals and organizations. People become enthusiastic, happy, motivated, creative, engaged, empathetic, passionate about their work, and focused on making a difference for customers and the world. They develop a collective mindset based on collaboration and teamwork.
An employee who has a conscious mindset is passionate about their work. They look for solutions rather than just pointing out problems. They are more creative and proactive in finding solutions to challenges that arise.
The first step to developing a conscious Level 4 mindset is to understand your default thinking mode, how you interpret events and the decisions you make based on these interpretations. A simpler way of understanding this is to ask yourself: “Am I focused on me (self-referential) or we (collaborative)?”
Collaborative (at levels 4 and 5) people are more likely to see themselves as part of a team or group, whereas self-referential people (At Levels 1, 2, or 3) are more self-centered. They are highly ambitious in their quest for success, often driven by ego, status, and power. They tend to be competitive individuals who like to be seen as winners and the best at everything they do. They are likely to be seen as high achievers in life with little interest in developing others unless it benefits them personally or professionally.
So, how can leaders become collaborative Level 4 leaders and foster an entrepreneurial mindset in their organizations? Table 1 shows examples of typical thought patterns and behavior of leaders anchored at Level 4 and organizational outcomes.
A broad roadmap for change would include:
- Creating an awareness of the above thought patterns and behaviors (more details are provided in The Managemen Shift book)
- Paying conscious attention to one’s emotions, thinking patterns, language used, and behavior
- Consciously choose thinking patterns, language, and behavior aligned with Level 4 and repeat the pattern until it becomes a habit.
In today’s world, leaders and companies who want to succeed need to adopt a conscious Level 4 mindset and culture, where leaders create psychological safety and entrepreneurial spirit so that all their employees feel the freedom to develop their skills and share ideas.
Innovators thrive in environments where they can take risks and are supported when failure happens. It may be challenging for leaders to make these cultural changes, but it is possible. Leaders should take it to step by step and support one another toward a new way of working. After all, there is no room for apathy and lifelessness as our organizations move forward into the future.
As society moves deeper into a new era of business, we must release ourselves from the gravitational pull of bureaucracy to lead organizations that are both nimble and robust enough to withstand the huge changes that are upon us.
This article was originally published on 25 July 2022.
About the Author
Vlatka Ariaana Hlupic is a professor of Leadership and Management at Hult International Business School (Ashridge) and founder and CEO of Management Shift Solutions Limited.