Our ideas about work are becoming archaic and obsolete. They lack the diversity of the human spectrum. The workplace is increasingly developing into a small community, in which employees want to commit themselves with their whole human being, and no longer just be anonymous links in a large system. People seek to fulfill different needs at work. It is increasingly a place where people want to develop themselves and others, and meet and contribute to others. Where people want to feel that they matter and want to put themselves in the world.
All these developments call for a paradigm shift. The shift from the anonymous, colorless employee to the versatile complex person. The shift from uniformity and standardization to individuality and diversity. Many managers struggle with this shift, but it also has enormous potential. After all, these new employees want to give themselves completely in work: brain, heart and soul!
With this shift, leadership and management become a new trade. It is less about processes and more about human dynamics and interaction. It’s less about managing outcomes and much more about the art of understanding what motivates people and how people relate to each other. I dare say that if you do not become absolutely proficient in the language of psychology and inter-relational dynamics, you miss an essential part of how business works.
Too much of our focus on work has been on the competition. Be the best, and you will automatically become happy. The focus is very much on the individual. The major challenges of today (burn-outs, absenteeism, low work ethic) show that this story is not entirely correct. Competition means that there are winners and losers. That creates an unsafe environment, an environment of oppositional ‘Us-Them’ thinking. Too little attention has been paid to the power of synergy, to the incredible creativity that safe and trusting teams can create with each other. People at work seek the connection of their best self with the greater We.That is the focus of New System Thinking: how do you get the optimal interweaving of the ‘I’ and the ‘We’.
The best work is done by and in safe teams. Humans are essential contributing creatures. Essential here is this realization: contribution requires belonging. People only fully contribute to what they feel part of! People become happiest when they can develop their unique gifts, and then use them in a meaningful way towards the whole that they feel they belong to. In recent decades we have focused on maximizing everyone’s I-potential (differentiation), which is a first step. But we have forgotten how valuable the second step is: feeding that developed talent back into a bigger story. As an example, take music. There are “supergroups” of top musicians, each of them virtuosos in mastering their instrument. But the music they try to make together sounds like a cacophony, one huge ‘talent-chaos’. Their talent has not been put at the service of the bigger whole.
The schism between head (persona at work), heart and soul (the fully embodied person) imposed on us by 1980s thinking is false and must be healed. Many employees run on empty at work because they lack inspiration and feeling. Many executives treat their employees like brains on a stick. In this way, an essential part of our vibrant humanity is ignored. By allowing the heart and soul to return to work, and thus allowing people to become fully human again, companies tap into a huge source of inspiration, creativity and work ethic. If you really see and value people in all their vital aspects, you will build a strong relationship of trust. New visionary companies not only recruit brains, but also hearts and souls. And that is exactly what you get in return: inspired and passionate employees!
We have fallen into the trap of uniformity. We have standardised human beings and human potential. At the detriment of the enormous creativity and versatility in human talent. But many companies have narrowed talent down to cognitive, rational skills: it must be strictly measurable and can be evaluated equally for everyone. Unfortunately we rob ourselves and the world of enormous wealth! From an evolutionary point of view, the most resilient ecosystems are those in which two elements are present at the same time: a great diversity (differentiation), and an overarching unifying whole (linking). In other words: companies that know how to bundle an enormous diversity of talent under one vision or goal are the thriving companies. We have lived 40 years of distinction, specialisation and differentiation. It enriched our world, no doubt. However, the deep desire for “what are we all doing it for?” is growing more and more. The burnouts, the sense of meaninglessness: it masks a deep longing for a a grand, overarching meaningful and inspiring story. The time has come for visionary business leaders to take their business to this higher evolutionary level by telling great connecting stories.
Safety is the alpha and omega of creative, inspiring and work-oriented teams. Many people feel unsafe. Insecure people shut themselves off, psychologically but also neurobiologically. Their entire nervous system is on edge, in utmost alertness. Their system is focused on survival. I need not tell you that such a survival mode is not the state in which talent thrives, in which someone is completely committed to a task or a team. Safety is the great connecting factor of the best teams. What’s more, safety cannot be ordered, it does not exist just because someone declares it a safe workplace. It is a felt sense. People can sense each other’s intent very acutely and accurately. We feel, as it were, the insides – the intention – of each other, despite what our appearances say or do. So the sincere intention of managers or leaders to create safety has a huge impact on teams. It is the daily intention that counts, more than what is said or written. You have to walk the walk. In a time of “horizontal” work environment, the influence of managers or leaders is sometimes dismissed. But their influence on their team members remains enormous in terms of trust and safety. That’s a huge opportunity!