While royalty is born to his or her station in life, the rest of us have to work to achieve a position of power. It is difficult for a lot of people who finally arrive to suddenly discover that the strength of their power (or influence) rests in the hands of others – usually the people they manage.

Middle and upper managers who were trained in yesterday’s command and control management school “know” that collaboration is important in today’s rapidly changing business environment. But they often provide lip-service to the subject. They sponsor staff training sessions on collaboration. But they still find it disconcerting, difficult and even impossible to give up their imperial role. What’s the fun of being boss if you can’t boss?

Legislators, law enforcement, the workforce and investing public have watched the tsarist activities of senior executives with their financial mismanagement and financial greed. Individuals and organizations have begun to seriously question the disturbing trend of the cook eating before the rest of the family and guests…and gorging themselves with wild abandon!

There is a paradigm shift taking place that says the provincial bureaucratic corporate pyramid has outlived its usefulness. Micro-management is no longer feasible or desirable.

New Environment Forces Change

Today we operate in a knowledge economy. In this environment, you can’t simply order people to work harder, smarter, or faster and to ignore the information that surrounds them. Knowledge workers get their information from all sides, not just from the top down.

If they were properly hired and trained, they know more about their work than their bosses and supervisors. Monopolistic managing doesn’t work. People need to be free, encouraged and constantly reminded to adapt and innovate. Effective, empowered individuals and teams will drive the success of their organizations, functions and activities. If their collaborative efforts aren’t encouraged the organization’s future is in jeopardy.

But collaboration doesn’t just happen. Senior management must insist that it is carried out and practiced at every level. They must also lead by example. The dirty little secret is that many leaders are uncomfortable with such structures. They cling to imperial roles because, as Mel Brooks said, “It’s good to be king!”

Sharing power and sharing information doesn’t enhance the alpha-male’s/female’s well being. It simply makes the people who do the work feel better, do better. So why is true collaboration – talking-the-talk and walking-the-walk — in the best interest of your organization and your senior management?

In today’s fast-moving, struggling, constantly changing economy firms have to realize that the real power, market position and strategic/tactical advantage are in the hands of knowledge workers. Not owners, not managers. The prime imperative for today’s leaders and senior management is to meet the needs of these workers.

Why? Even with staff reductions, knowledge workers — the best — have choices as to where they work and the terms of their employment. Since 1995, 25 percent of the American workforce has been laid off at least once. The bond between the organization, its management and knowledge workers is tenuous at best.

These people want meaning and direction. They want a sense of significance and self-satisfaction. They expect trust in and from their leaders. They are inspired by a sense of hope and optimism. They demand results.

If the organization isn’t open to collaborative workflow that will take advantage of and nurture the firm’s intellectual capital, the company’s most valuable asset will find a position elsewhere. One that is more aligned with their personal and professional goals.

When that happens, some portion of the organization’s intellectual capital is lost. Even in the most dispersed, most automated operations that represent the loss of some of the firm’s future competitive advantage. Our best risk-taking, results-oriented leaders are catalysts. They expect to achieve a lot. They also know that they there is little they can do without the efforts, support and commitment of others.

Take a hard look at the achievements of Intel’s Andy Grove and Charlie Barrett, Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, GE’s Jack Welch and Jeff Immelt, IBM’s Lou Gestner and Sam Palmisano and Southwest Airline’s Herb Kelleher and Colleen Barrett. Each in their own fashion brought to their jobs the zeal, resourcefulness, risk-tolerance and discipline of an entrepreneur. Nothing less breaks through the noise, clutter, and competitive pressure of today’s marketplace.But the common thread of achievement was their ability to recognize, employ and focus the men and women of their firms to tap into their need for self achievement and self worth. Without this they would have been simply decent CEOs and good stewards of the investors’ company.


Intellectual Capital

They were actually able to generate intellectual capital for their firms. Capital that isn’t shown on a balance sheet. Capital that is vital to the firm’s growth and long-term prosperity. They understood the key to their success was: selecting the right people, allocating capital resources and spreading ideas quickly.

Helping your knowledge workers is more difficult since to truly excel, senior management must make difficult decisions in short time frames with imperfect data. They have to be able to think in the abstract and connect the dots when the lines are fuzzy at best.

As hockey’s Wayne Gretzky noted, “it ain’t’ where the puck is. It’s where the puck will be.” Or as a Fortune 500 CEO once said: “if you’re not confused, you don’t know what’s going on.” Inconsistency is the one constant. Indecision is never an option!

The best managers encourage the sharing of information. They encourage people to speak out on important issues. They share decisions. They share credit for successes. They accept failure as progress.

In baseball, a great player is one who bats 300. That means he strikes out 7 of 10 times. Or as Gretzky reminds us, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

Successful Managers

Successful managers know that with imperfect information they are not going to be right 100% of the time. They know that ultimately they must take their best shot. At the same time they have to create a climate that tolerates strikeouts and missed shots.

The option is indecision. A firm where control exists only at the top. A company that can easily be surpassed. A company that is slowly, painfully dying. It is an organization where the best knowledge workers have limited options:

  • Depart for greener pastures,
  • Bide their time until new, better management arrives or
  • Accept and be satisfied with mediocrity and indecision/nondecision.

None of the options seem appealing. Aggressive collaboration must be a priority with every CEO and manager in today’s knowledge-based, unstable business environment. Today’s businesses must generate intellectual capital. Management must encourage and nurture it. They must create added value.

It’s difficult to admit after all of your years of hard work that being a king isn’t all it is cracked up to be. But it is important to remember that kings only remain kings as long as the kingdom thrives. Today’s business kingdoms only thrive in a collaborative environment.

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