What Does it Take to ReImagine Work Relationships? Part 1

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?


This post is based on a manifesto posted on maryschaefer.com. “Part 2” coming to LeadChange soon.

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