Groupwork Institute Blog

Here’s how a leader refused to make rules and found success

Ants on a gum leaf; the leader ant is looking ahead but also looking at the team

Collaborative leaders don't force their team's direction

People often ask: ‘How do we adapt to a new environment without losing our culture or sliding away from the principles that have made our workplace the preferred place to work?’

Our co-founder Glen Ochre was a big fan of this maverick boss, Ricardo Semler from South America. He is a quirky and successful example of the principles we cover in our collaborative leadership training.

He did the unthinkable: created a workforce that had incredible freedom.

Power was equalised in very unconventional ways. Back in 2000, Semler was the original agile thinker. I sum up his approach like this:

Just do it – and then if it works, keep doing it. If it doesn’t, modify and improve.

Sometimes the maverick nature of Semler comes out in your own conversations, as you question the paradigm within which you operate.

In this unprecedented time of change, perhaps this is the time, above all others, when radical new things can be tried? Semler talks about his business:

“How do you get a sizeable organization to change without telling it—or even asking it—to change?

It’s actually easy—but only if you’re willing to give up control.

People, I’ve found, will act in their best interests, and by extension in their organization’s best interests, if they’re given complete freedom. It’s only when you rein them in, when you tell them what to do and how to think, that they become inflexible, bureaucratic, and stagnant.

Forcing change is the surest way to frustrate change.”

Now, maybe this seems way too idealistic. And I suspect some of you are thinking, “yeah… give complete freedom to people? That would be a disaster!”

But if you think of it, the leadership principles he is espousing:

  • believing in people
  • trusting them
  • empowering them and
  • making them responsible for their own actions,

all of these are what we work towards in working well with others. And they are what we feature in our specialised collaborative leadership short course and workplace training.

Here’s another example of what he says about leading his people:

“Don’t be a nanny

Most companies suffer from what I call boarding-school syndrome. They treat their employees like children. They tell them where they have to be at what time, what they need to be doing, how they need to dress, whom they should talk to, and so on. But if you treat people like immature wards of the state, that’s exactly how they’ll behave. They’ll never think for themselves or try new things or take chances. They’ll just do what they’re told, and they probably won’t do it with much spirit.”

Have a read of what he has to say. It could make for a topic of great conversation 🙂 Here’s the link: How we went digital without a strategy

I invite you to join us in exploring these principles and further develop your own leadership skills in leading with courage, compassion and competence. The world needs great leaders!

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