New research reveals that busyness, and the need to be seen as being busy – together with a deep-rooted addiction to heroic leadership – are hindering both organisational and executive growth.
The study by Ashridge Business School’s leadership expert Dr Megan Reitz, published in the new book Dialogue in Organizations: Developing Relational Leadership, offers new insights into effective business leadership and organisational change in the 21st century.
In politics, business and wider society, ‘better’ leadership and dialogue are seen as antidotes to the complex issues facing the modern world. Dialogue in Organizations reveals how the compulsion for ‘busyness’, the entrenched assumptions about who leaders are (and what they should do) and attachment to pre-existing cultural norms are hindering how people connect, think and create together at work.
Dr Reitz asserts that many organisations are addicted to the antiquated model of hierarchical heroic leadership, where charismatic, omniscient superstars take courageous stands – and that this is limiting productivity. She also contends that today’s frenzied pace of life is resulting in transactional meetings at work that are suffocating opportunities for meaningful conversations and creative thinking.
The research calls for leaders to pay attention to the quality of their interactions and relationships within their organisation. Genuine dialogue is presented as meeting others with respect, care and attention in the present moment.
To be highly successful, leaders need to start having meaningful conversations in the workplace, and to meet in dialogue, rather than talk in monologue. People need to be talked with, and not just talked to. Effective communication is promoted when leaders facilitate open dialogue between people who feel that they are in a safe environment, where their views will be listened to.
Dr Megan Reitz, Faculty Member at Ashridge Business School, said: “I have met many leaders who feel isolated, alienated and despairingly busy. The quality of their encounters with their staff are suffering; conversations are often snatched between meetings, constrained within pressurised agendas and mediated through power and politics.
“With the overwhelming ethical, environmental and societal challenges we face today, our persistent focus on discussions that idealise productivity, efficiency, shareholder value, competition and busyness is reaching dangerous proportions. What is needed is the capacity to inquire carefully, create and think well together; the transactional communications taking place do not serve this need. Organisations and leadership capacities need to change, fast.”
“We need to rethink our obsession with heroic, hierarchical leadership and start focusing on more distributed leadership, demonstrated through seizing opportunities in key moments in conversations that lead to big changes in our ability to think well together. In today’s world, the CEO’s job is no longer to command and control but to mindfully inquire, disrupt, include, cultivate and collaborate. Doing this well requires radically different capacities to those that leaders are typically taught or encouraged to develop.”
Traditional leadership models are typically concerned with simplifying dialogue, presenting it as a matter of employing certain attitudes or competencies. Times have changed, and in this era of unprecedented volatility and change, being able to fully engage with employees and other stakeholders is a pressing issue for any effective leader.
The quality of the leader-follower encounter is examined using an action research approach, which is a practical and collaborative approach to inquiry and problem solving. The stories and images illustrate the challenges faced in enabling dialogue and developing ‘relational leadership’ in organisations. Essentially, the work of Dr Reitz explores how our relationships at work impact on us as human beings, in our ambition to be the people we want to be.
Dr Megan Reitz researches, teaches and consults in the areas of leadership, organisational change and personal development. She is a Director in the Ashridge Open Programme Management Team and leads The Leadership Experience: Leading on the Edge and Leading on Purpose programmes.
Before joining Ashridge, Megan was a member of the People and Organisational Change practice at Deloitte Consulting. She has also worked in the internet industry for boo.com and in strategy consulting for The Kalchas Group, now the strategic arm of Computer Science Corporation. Megan’s current research interests include speaking truth to power in organisations, the neuroscience of leadership and the links between mindfulness and leadership capacities.