teamwork Elevate open leaders by getting out of the way

Your open organization leaders know the most effective path forward, but are you giving them the space to get there?

Today, we're seeing the rapid rise of agile organizations capable of quickly and effectively adapting to market new ideas with large-scale impacts. These companies tend to have something in common: they have a clear core direction and young, energetic leaders—leaders who encourage their talented employees to develop their potential.

The way these organizations apply open principles to developing their internal talent—that is, how they facilitate and encourage talented employees to develop and advance in all layers of the organization—is a critical component of their sustainability and success. The organizations have achieved an important kind of "flow," through which talented employees can easily shift to the places in the organization where they can add the most value based on their talents, skills, and intrinsic motivators. Flow ensures fresh ideas and new impulses. After all, the best idea can originate anywhere in the organization—no matter where a particular employee may be located.

The elements of success

I see five crucial elements that determine the success of businesses today:

  1. Talented leaders are engaged and empowered—given the space to develop, grow, and build experience under the guidance of mentors (leaders) in a safe environment. They can fail fast and learn fast.
  2. Their organizations know how to quickly and decisively convert new ideas into valuable products, services, or solutions.
  3. The dynamic between "top" and "bottom" managers and leaders in the organization is one of balance.
  4. People are willing to let go of deeply held beliefs, processes, and behaviors. It's brave to work openly.
  5. The organization has a clear core direction and strong identity based on the open principles.

All these elements of success are connected to employees' creativity and ingenuity.

An open and safe working environment

Companies that traditionally base their services, governance, and strategic execution on hierarchy and the authority embedded in their systems, processes, and management structure rarely leave room for this kind of open talent development. In these systems, good ideas too often get "stuck" in bureaucracies, and authority to lead is primarily based on tenure and seniority, not on talent. Moreover, traditionally minded board members and management don't always have an adequate eye for management talent. 

So there is the first challenge! We need leaders who can have a primary eye on leadership talent. The first step to balance management and leadership at the top. Empowering the most talented and passionate—rather than the more senior—makes them uncomfortable. So leaders with potentially innovative ideas rarely get invited to participate in the "inner circle."

Fortunately, I see these organizations beginning to realize that they need to get moving before they lose their competitive edge.

They're beginning to understand that they need to provide talented employees with safe spaces for experimentation—an open and safe work environment, one in which employees can experiment with new ideas, learn from their mistakes, and find that place in the organization where they thrive.

But the truth is that there is no "right" or "wrong" choice for organizing a business. The choices an organization makes are simply the choices that determine their overall speed, strength, and agility. And more frequently, organizations are choosing open approaches to building their cultures and processes, because their talent thrives better in environments based on transparency and trust. Employees in these organizations have more perspective and are actively involved in the design and development of the organization itself. They keep their eyes and ears "open" for new ideas and approaches—so the organization benefits from empowering them.

Hybrid thinking

The transition from a conventional organization to a more open one is never a guaranteed success. During this transformation, you'll encounter periods in which traditional and open practices operate side by side, even mixed and shuffled. These are an organization's hybrid phase.

When your organization enters this hybrid phase, it needs to begin thinking about changing its approach to talent management. In addition to its individual transformation, it will need to balance the needs and perspectives of senior managers and leaders alongside other management layers, which are beginning to shift. In short, it must establish a new vision and strategy for the development of leadership talent.

The starting point here is to create a safe and stimulating environment where mentors and coaches support these future leaders in their growth. During this hybrid period, you will be searching for the balance between passion and performance in the organization—which means you'll need to let go of deeply rooted beliefs, processes, and behaviors. 

In my opinion, this means focusing on the human elements present in your organization, its leadership, and its flows of talent, without losing sight of organizational performance. This "letting go" doesn't happen quickly or immediately, like pressing a button, nor is it one that you can entirely influence. But it is an exciting and comprehensive journey that you and your organization will embark on.

And that journey begins with you. Are you ready for it?

This article is adapted from Elevating open leaders by getting out of their way by Jos Groen, and is republished with the author's permission.