Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Imagine a Workplace Built on Trust

Jonathan Raymond, Good Authority: How To Become the Leader Your Team is Waiting For

The common expression “work-life balance” assumes we compartmentalize whatever we do for pay from whatever gives our lives meaning. Jonathan Raymond, former attorney, tech CEO, and spiritual seeker, believes that’s a false division. Good leaders, in Raymond’s field-tested opinion, don’t manage human resources; they uplift people, a process that emboldens employees’ private lives as it improves their work output. But how, in a business climate of swinging machismo, can real leaders distinguish themselves from managers?

I applaud Raymond for avoiding chintzy buzzwords and trademarked Paths To Success. His approach involves self-scrutiny, human understanding, and professional mutuality. Though he uses occasional handy acronyms, and pinches liberally from simplified Jungian psychology, Raymond fundamentally calls managers to know themselves, and their subordinates, a slow, sloppy process that yields abundant rewards. Admittedly, this book is a billboard for Raymond’s management consultancy. But it exceeds other such books I’ve read by being grounded in facts.

For Raymond, leadership involves neither issuing orders and cracking the whip, nor heroically fixing others’ problems. Heroes, he writes, ensure their own job security by keeping subordinates dependent on frequent rescue. Instead, he encourages leaders to be “Less Superman, More Yoda”—that is, to give employees latitude enough to develop into the fully fledged individuals we already know they are. Leaders should avoid “company culture,” a buzzword that apparently offends Raymond, instead mentoring capable workers.

In pursuit of this goal, Raymond cites certain portable tools like the OWNER chart and the Accountability Dial. Accountability looms large in Raymond’s thinking, though he reserves it for fairly late in the book, since “accountability” often devolves into punishments and rewards. Instead, he systematically encourages workers to own their job performance, while demanding managers exercise good (rather than “borrowed”) authority over their charges. His system is portable enough to implement without necessarily hiring consultants.

Jonathan Raymond
As Raymond writes early, “the health of a [company’s] culture is equal to the collective ability of the people who work there to feel the impacts of their actions on others.” This requires employees to engage one another as fully human. Not necessarily equal: employees will resist improving their performance if they don’t anticipate consequences for their actions, and your buddy can’t sack you. Instead, when managers and employees consider their relationship mutual, outputs improve.

This creates certain tensions. Leaders guide and mentor their subordinates, do so without necessarily prying into workers’ personal lives. (Raymond uses the term “therapist” early, but ambiguously, and doesn’t harp on the concept.) This means meeting workers where they are, rather than bullying or chivvying them into an inferior relationship. This doesn’t mean exempting workers from fallout for their more egregious mistakes; Raymond makes clear that healthy culture requires setting firm boundaries and terminal limits.

Perhaps most important, in Raymond’s less-Superman-more Yoda model, leaders must relinquish the ideal of invulnerability. They cannot deny their own mistakes or weaknesses while simultaneously requiring workers to come to grips with theirs. Raymond’s OWNER chart, which is so good I’d rather let him explain it, does include “Name the Challenge” and “Embrace Mistakes.” Though he doesn’t use the term, his model relies on mutual honesty, too often a missing quality in today’s workplace environment.

Raymond’s model, and the examples he uses, draw from the white-collar technical world. A former tech CEO, Raymond’s experiences involve office work and skilled professional employees. However, with limited fine-tuning, his model, based on straightforward structures of group dynamics and social psychology, should translate into blue-collar work, like factories or construction. Having done both these categories, I’ve seen the importance of a firm but uplifting hand on the tiller, something frequently missing from manual trades.

Much as I appreciate Raymond’s model, he frequently misses his own assumptions. For instance, he assumes management and labor share mutual goals, and simply need to reconcile means. His three leadership archetypes—Fixer, Fighter, and Friend—miss one equally important model, the Foe, who threatens and insults workers into compliance, often preemptively. Similarly, his five employee archetypes overlook the Foe’s favorite self-justification, the Slacker. Maybe a management theory predicated on mutuality can’t accommodate these unilateralists.

So, for organizational leaders who want strong members on resilient teams, Jonathan Raymond offers a structural approach that rewards everyone together. Mutatis mutandis, Raymond’s business approaches could empower schoolteachers, religious and political leaders, activists, and others who would bring out the best in others. Having faced multiple workplaces where management and labor had essentially adversarial relationships, I find Raymond’s vision energizing. Despite its challenges, it needs leaders generous enough to implement it in real life.

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