The post below is a summary of The NextGen Enterprise’s Sept. 1st 2020 Thrive-In Session hosted by Suzanne Aebischer and Samantha Slade. Feel free to skip the summary and watch the full recording at the end of this post instead.
For Samantha Slade – author of Going Horizontal: Creating a Non-hierarchical Organization, One Practice at a Time – the reality-warping coronavirus of 2020 has highlighted and exacerbated an already untenable status quo in the business world, namely, the cumbersome - but strangely ubiquitous - “Top-Down” hierarchical modal.
Drawing from over 20 years of applied ethnographic research, she’s realized that now more than ever, for a company to truly thrive in the 21st century’s ever-shifting financial and social landscape, obsolete and antiquated authority structures need to change, to allow for more empowering, respectful and direct expressions of initiative to flourish.
But more than simply theorizing about such wide-reaching concepts, Samantha has put them into practice through the co-founding of Percolab, an international network of leadership-redefining enterprises.
During the growth of her cooperative laboratory, she has recognized a series of empirically-tested steps that, when enacted, promote productivity and health, while also reducing the carbon footprint.
By slightly adapting workplace interactions to relieve previously unnoticed stressors during exchanges between colleagues, negotiations are then re-framed in a more reciprocal context and therefore distribute power more efficiently.
This has a flattening effect on the hierarchy of all authority figures involved, which helps migrate from the “permission culture” that permeates current work environments (where hesitations over procedural aspects rather than proposal content, dictate performance and initiative), towards a place of mutual respect, understanding and ultimately, reclaimed leadership capacities.
To reap the aforementioned ecological, financial and social benefits of shared leadership, Samantha explains that one must first discover if and where personal assumptions, concerning the terms “leadership” and “power”, hinder our ability to fully wield said concepts.
Once the archetypes behind those words are shared, understood and broken down their primal essence, one notices the distortions between idealized or fictionalized notions of leadership and its practical, efficient application.
The traditional idea of a heroic leader exerting a dominant, subjugating force in the workplace soon becomes redundant when self-sufficient, streamlined solutions like Leadership for Everyone are actual possibilities.
The all-too-common assumption at this stage of the self-inquiry often leads to faulty notions of power being a finite resource, where a distribution of it diminishes its potency.
The question then becomes how to activate one’s own power, through this better understanding of its true meaning.
Ever the pragmatist, Samantha helps illustrate this process in more anecdotal terms, by relating how a recent embodiment of her self-leading principles and practices pushed the workers at a company where she previously intervened to personally select their daily tasks according to their skills and desires, rather than worrying about external guidelines.
This shift resulted in far greater results and satisfaction compared to any of the company’s previous, micro-managed efforts.
Another hurdle that sometimes appears when embracing a “leadership for all” mindset, is the challenge of learning to dissociate from the stress that has become entwined (and almost synonymous) with leadership.
Overcoming the trained passivity and subordinate conditioning that has been drummed into our collective conscience since the days of written memorization, raised hands and hall passes, is paramount to breaking from restrictive habits that are no longer useful.
Learning to expose one’s ideas and talents without diminishing others is another indispensable skill in the modern workforce.
Samantha explains how finding communicative solutions that allow each member to feel validated and empowered when engaging in negotiations (by creating a company protocol and/or constitution, for example) can be a good first step to induce willing, compassionate accountability. Indeed, it installs unobtrusive structures that promote free exchanges between colleagues. At the same time, it filters out and shifts hindering, subconscious patterns towards a place of trust.
Releasing the negativity and fear that surrounds leadership brings not only a greater awareness of one’s own capacity to embrace said role, but also helps understand the misconception that sharing power leads to wasted time.
This democratization of the decision-making process does not, contrary to popular belief, compromise energy or efficiency when we work with the notion of time as a “Shared Commons”, in the sense that it is a resource of equal value to everyone.
Again, Samantha offers an example of a simple, yet effective technique called “Silent Witnessing”, where colleagues preemptively agree to allocate a portion of their reunion time for airing grievances. Once expressed, these statements are heard and acknowledged but not commented upon.
Organizing interpersonal relationships in this manner allows for bottled-up, miscellaneous feelings to find an outlet, while also streamlining the rest of the day’s emotional workload, by alleviating the potential stress of having to deal with unfulfilled colleagues.
This re-imagining of the relationship between time and power, circles back to the notion of trust being the driving force behind sharing leadership, and therefore an indispensable tool in the modern workplace.
To finish the session, Samantha divided us into small groups for a mental exercise, and assigned us the task of either accepting a proposal from one of our peers or refusing it.
This little game, despite its apparent simplicity and relatively low stakes, still ended up revealing how much can get lost, muddled or hidden during even the most anodyne of exchanges.
It also showed just how mindful and efficient we can choose to become, by espousing her self-leading methods.
Samantha Slade explains that to see the leadership in everyone is to see it in one’s self.
That is why a change of personal habits usually translates into radical changes in our life: we are the architects not only of our own paths, but also of our own challenges.
The majority of things blocking our desires from manifesting in this world come from our own psyche, which can be just as frustrating as it is liberating, because the choice truly is ours.
Indeed, stepping into one’s power, while simultaneously leaving room for others to shine, is an admittedly hard balancing act.
It is also one full of potential and profit, because this Give-and-Take approach creates an alignment of purpose between colleagues towards a shared goal that goes beyond money, where those who feel drawn to tasks execute them, fully understanding and accepting the authority and responsibility those initiatives entail.
Self-management at this scale is therefore both macro and micro, but remains self-imposed.
It is in that minute, yet monumental shift that Samantha sees the future of our business world.
Her subtle yet beneficial steps create a baseline of conduct that, when built upon, helps grow the definition of work - and more importantly Leadership - to finally meet the heights of our 21st century expectations.