phone Next generation leaders expect to work openly

Leverage the principles of open organizations to get buy-in from your teams, and drive digital transformations more effectively.

Emerging, talented leaders need space to flow to those places in the organization where they add value based on their unique talents and intrinsic motivations. If the organization's management and senior management set the right examples, extend trust, and listen, they can greatly accelerate the organization's transformation to a more open culture.

But talent needs access to an organization's cliques and inner circles, its boards and executive teams, to really kickstart the kind of collaboration and mutual learning that will move the organization forward and create sustainable succession.

Leading from open

Adopting an open organization leadership style won't just benefit these up-and-coming leaders; unleashing your inspired and high-performing employees can impact many colleagues in the organization. People will find this new energy attractive and want to tap into it. The result: increased curiosity, enthusiasm, ownership, and pleasure in their work.

Other colleagues will be more skeptical, or assume a “wait and see” approach to the change. They'll need time to process the implications of your organization's transition to openness. In some ways, initial reluctance is a positive sign; it means something has triggered someone's curiosity, and they're becoming aware that they have new choices to make—about the ways they work, the ways they lead, the organizational opportunities available to them, etc. For managers, the key is to recognize this skepticism as something positive and not mistake it for resistance.

This is critical, because ultimately you will want people in your organization to choose to work openly—not be forced to. You'll want people to experience the benefits of a more open organizational culture and opt into it rather than feel like they're just complying with a mandate.

Change is hard

Some people may choose not to engage. They may even make a different choice: the choice to leave the organization. They may simply conclude that an open style of work and leadership doesn't fit their preferences. Managers will need to be careful. Don't assume that someone's decision to leave your organization is a failure on your part. It may confirm the fact that you're facilitating an effective organizational transformation—and the new rules, norms, preferences, and standards are becoming more clear and obvious to everyone.

The truth is that your organization's talent can sense whether managers and board members are truly serious about organizational transformation. People will scrutinize your vision and approach and consider whether they're genuine or mere stage dressing. Your most talented emerging leaders expect their managers to set desirable examples when it comes to transparency, trust, and inclusivity. They expect a certain openness to contribution or collaboration from senior leaders. And if you don't live up to your word, then these people will make their own choice to leave your organization. That is something you might consider a failed approach to talent.

Open leadership leads to success

The speed and strength of your organization will determine your success in a new economic environment, one where new ideas are toppling some long standing older ideas. These new ideas spring from the creativity and resourcefulness of your employees, but they can only do that in a safe and more open working environment. So we urgently need to focus more on balancing people's needs and the business' needs inside our organizations. 

Your goal in creating an open organization is igniting passion and performance, and you're able to do this when people feel free and invited to contribute to the organization's purpose—not when they're commanded to by command-and-control structures. Unfortunately, too few organizations don't strike that balance. When they don't, they see the consequences: loss of competitive position in this rapidly changing market.

Surviving will mean transitioning to a more open organizational model, one built around a leadership style that doesn't rely on formal authority. It also calls for decision-making that considers not only reason but also on feeling, on heart. That sense of balance extends to managers, who need to balance their expectations with those of emerging leaders.

Surviving today's rapidly changing business contexts will also force companies to move—not just in the market, but internally as well. This means developing organizational flow; leaders must be able to follow their passions and interests, and the degree to which your organization allows this will determine whether and how quickly you achieve the kind of organizational balance I mentioned earlier.

The transition to a more open organizational model initially leads to a hybrid situation, where old structures and processes exist alongside newer ones. That can create organizational tensions. 

Looking ahead

By sharing my insights and practical experiences here, I hope to contribute to the creation of safe working environments, where people can develop, flourish, and add their unique value.

Key takeaways for open organization leaders include:

  1. People are the organization's source of creativity and ingenuity
  2. A good idea can originate anywhere in the organization
  3. Involve talented employees in all situations in your business operations
  4. Start transformation at the top by building the balance between managers and leaders
  5. Leaders train leaders and managers train managers (acknowledge the difference)
  6. A company without a core direction is not connected to its own essence
  7. Create a safe environment to learn and experiment
  8. Ensure inclusivity so that everyone has the opportunity to thrive
  9. Provide enough mentors and coaches for those interested in developing their leadership talents
  10. Lead with your heart and your head
  11. Embrace and respect current senior management and show them the opportunities of being more open
  12. A hybrid period is not easy, but it is dynamic and can be very satisfying

I hope these lessons will enhance your ability to create an organization with a more open mind, and to balance passion and performance on your teams. Always remember that people make the difference, and they simply thrive better in a more open organization. So open up!

This article is adapted from What next-generation leaders expect: the choice to work openly by Jos Groen, and is republished with the author's permission.