Traditional leadership logic (leader-follower) says that organizations need a strong leader to take command and control over an organization in order for it to succeed. This model worked exceptionally well in the past, when workers were performing tasks that are more physical in nature like construction or building widgets on an assembly line.
However, over the past several decades, we’ve seen a shift from physical-labor oriented jobs to thought and connection centered work. Today’s workers are not simply motivated the same way as their parents’ parents were. This is common knowledge, yet we insist on managing this new breed of workers as if they were still working on the factory floor.
A more effective approach to managing today’s thought workers is to adopt a leader-leader model. In its simplest form, the leader-leader model forces you to push power and responsibility as low on the organizational hierarchy as possible. This allows leaders at every level to re-focus their efforts on more meaningful tasks, while trusting those below them to figure out how to get their job done.
In Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders Captain David Marquet outlines how he implemented the leader-leader model while in charge of a nuclear submarine, the USS Santa Fe. Captain Marquet outlines four primary pillars of the leader-leader model:
Control - Give control, don’t take control. This is probably the hardest for most leaders since the more stressful times become, the more we try to control the situation.
Competence - Give your team the tools they need to be technically competent. A technically competent team provides the foundation for trust.
Clarity - State the organization’s goals clearly, openly, and honestly. Make sure everyone is working towards the same goals.
Courage - Resist the urge to fall back into the leader-follower model. It is important to continue to trust your team to deliver, even in the face of adversity.
Committing his organization to these four pillars allowed Captain Marquet to turn one of the least effective submarines in the US Navy into one of the most effective. Best of all, the USS Santa Fe continues to be one of the Navy’s most effective submarines over a decade after Captain Marquet retired.
The leader-leader model engages team members in a way that is more difficult (or impossible) with the leader-follower one. Employees are more engaged, and achieve a sense of meaning and purpose in their work. As a result, retention rates improve, collaboration increases, and the organization benefits from empowered workers who take the initiative instead of waiting around to be told what to do.
Captain Marquet covers some of the key points in his book during his talk at the 2013 Fortune Leadership Summit. Check it out for more insights into the leader-leader model.