What Does it Take to ReImagine Work Relationships? Part 1

by  Mary C. Schaefer  |  Self Leadership

Our American work culture is evolving.  Many “people in charge” (I hesitate to call them leaders) have lost their way – they’ve have lost track of the very distinctive value that Human resources bring to making our businesses prosper.  If we are to capitalize on the unique value of Human beings at work, the fundamental relationship between people who are employees and the people who manage them must change.

The American work culture has gone through plenty of change since the industrial revolution.  In the last 25 years particularly, financial pressures forced companies to move away from taking care of employees to expecting employees to manage their own careers and create their own job security.  But, we overshot the mark. This move was made without attending to what it meant, for employees as well as those who manage them.  And who would know how to make this transition?  We may have vaguely foreseen the result of unfettered capitalism, but who knows where to go from here?

The social contract between employees and those representing employers changed once in recent history (when labor unions became necessary), and has to change again.  American business as we know it never had to do this before.  In attempting to make up for giving too much, companies overcompensated by giving too little.  And thus, in their ignorance, many in authority have unintentionally squandered the innate worth all Human beings bring to the table, simply by virtue of being Human.  Having overshot the mark, we now need to regroup.

No matter what kind of leader you are, in title or influence, we all need to take responsibility for how our interactions at work impact each other and, thus, our organizations’ effectiveness. We need to take it to another level.  It’s given that the days of implying unconditional security for employees are over, as is the attitude that employers owe employees that.  And yet, we have to attend to what we DO owe each other and even expect and demand of each other.  We must all take responsibility for accomplishing our work and, at the same time, for respecting each other as Human beings in a deeper way than ever before.

I’m struck by one definition of “character-based leadership” I’ve seen: leadership from who you are rather than your position in an organization or company, community or family.  I have one interpretation of this as meaning “being a leader when you don’t have to be.”  So my question is, “what would it mean to show more responsibility toward each other at work, even if we don’t have to?”

What is your ideal state of a work culture, where everyone is practicing character-based leadership?

NOTE:  This post is based on a manifesto posted on my site.   To see entire manifesto, look here:  “Part 2” coming to LeadChange soon.

Image from Microsoft ClipArt.

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About The Author

Articles By mary-schaefer
Speaker, coach and trainer Mary Schaefer’s expertise is in creating work cultures where organizations and human beings can both thrive. She is a former HR manager. Find out more about how Mary helps managers empower themselves to make the most of their human resources with this special collection of articles selected for LCG readers:  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

David Weale  |  11 Aug 2010  |  Reply

Some nice points Mary, it’s true that many business leaders have resorted to functional management only, with very little attention to the art of leadership-by-character and values.

I don’t strictly see those in charge as having ‘lost their way’, I just see it as them not being able, for whatever reason, to take leadership to the next level. Whether it be due to the increased intensity of work these days, or just an inability to break out of a functional culture, many of ‘those in charge’ seem to be unable to go beyond transactional exchanges, even when the people are crying out for so much more.

I just wonder whether, if they took their foot off the gas for a moment, leaders would see the wealth of creativity around them. I also wonder whether, if they noticed this untapped potential, these leaders would actually begin to value relationship over performance.

Maybe if they did that, the results would come anyway.

Mary C Schaefer  |  12 Aug 2010  |  Reply

Thanks Dave, for the comments. Yes, saying they’ve “lost their way” may not be precisely accurate. I think I used that phrase because it strikes me that there are good people out there who are so caught up in the pressure to get more done they don’t deliberately stand back to regroup and ask themselves is this the person they want to be, while doing their jobs. It seems to me they are caught up in a contrived world of priorities that will only perpetuate the rate race.

I’m not criticizing. The pressure is ON, and a person’s job might be at stake if they take a stand on being more connected (Human) than transactional.

It pains me because, just as you said, if leaders would “see the wealth of creativity around them. I also wonder whether, if they noticed this untapped potential, these leaders would actually begin to value relationship over performance.” I’m hoping we can create a critical mass around this thought.

I’ll say more about all of this in Part 2. Thanks again!

David Weale  |  12 Aug 2010  |  Reply

Appreciate the reply Mary.

Just thinking out loud, wouldn’t it make a fascinating study to ask this transactional group just what prevents them from engaging with the ‘untapped potential’ in the ranks.

I’m guessing that answers would include the assumptions we’ve made, plus other reasons such as fear of losing credibility, traditional expectations on the leader-as-decision-maker, boardroom exclusivity, too much emphasis on upward accountability, etc…

I’m sure the answers would lead us back to the fact that leadership at all levels is a critical skill that simply cannot be neglected at any cost.

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