I am fortunate to work with many wicked smart young professionals who aspire to bring their important innovations to the market so they can change the world. These young visionaries have often left a corporate scenario because they knew their dreams would never see the light of day in a revenue-driven and soul-crushing environment.
Recently I was in a conversation with a potential client (let’s call him Josh), uncovering what he imagined were the issues he wanted to work on to become a better leader and founder. Josh was a corporate refugee, having worked tirelessly at two behemoth tech companies, only to bail, initiate his own start-up effort, and fail. Josh’s ultimate desire was to re-launch an R&D consultancy to utilize his technology innovations to focus on paradigmatic-shifting economic, information, and biofeedback systems. But he wanted to do it with with more skill and strategy this next time around.
As he contemplated my question, “What do you think is holding you back from being an effective leader?,” Josh almost sheepishly replied, “I need to be ‘believable’. Not hold back. My pattern is to defer power to others.” As it turns out, he’d been watching the successful founders and entrepreneurs in the tech industry – those who’d succeeded (e.g., generated investment, executed on their product goals) – and most of them were ‘believable’ in their leadership style.
When I queried Josh on what he meant by “believable,” he replied, “believable leaders tell people just what they need to believe so they’ll work hard to get the product out the door.” And he went on to describe this is why most tech companies have revolving doors for young programmers or engineers who are hired to build the next great product then leave in a state of burnout while the company has profited from their effort.
While unthinkable to most of us, ‘believable’ in this context obviously meant ‘power over’ others, wielding a dominant influence (often appearing as alpha-male superiority) at the expense of the well-being of the committed staff in order to execute on the vision. Having worked with many other founders and expatriates of the tech industry, this pattern is propagated by the focus on revenue rather than impact. Short-term output vs. resilience.
As the conversation unfolded, I became aware of the stage of consciousness of this young man, and his own vast awareness of systems, and therefore his preference to act from something other than an ego-dominant paradigm. We spoke about potential goals for him in his current role in a stable tech company to learn to communicate better to both 1) manage his own staff to accomplish his department’s goals, while 2) translating his own ideas through more effective means of communicating.
Working on these two goals with Josh might accomplish two outcomes. First, he’d be practicing and modeling a different “power with” relational style to promote partnership, rather than dominance. This could affect not only his current role in a more stable firm, but also bring him new skills when the opportunity arises to launch his own start-up.
Second, Josh would learn to communicate his extraordinary innovations to those who could support their execution, without leaving them in the dust conceptually. His pattern has been to be ‘unbelievable’ to his superiors and peers, who didn’t fully understand his exceptional spatial and visual technological capacities. And thus, he’d vacillated between a passive or aggressive pattern of communication, which diminished his credibility as a leader.
Underneath some of these struggles for Josh, as for many other young entrepreneurs that I work with, is a lack of safety in competitive work environments that value ROI’s outputs of revenue and execution over sustainable work environments that actually produce greater innovation.
As extensive research has demonstrated, work environments that promote innovation are generally created by interpersonal dynamics that evoke trust, commitment, cohesion and collective power (Jiminez et al, 2017). For a company to engender these factors it needs to encourage honesty, understanding, respect and quality interaction (Ashleigh & Nandhakumar, 2007). But to do so, the organization must have an emotional infrastructure that includes intentionally designed structures that engender a healthy emotional climate (Leavy & Govindarajan, 2011).
Often, leaders who are primarily focused on executing, then scaling, in order to attain investor commitment and buy-outs pay little heed to creating the stability needed to retain top talent or generally to optimize innovation. It’s a very short-sighted strategy that ultimately will lead to the demise of a company, if they don’t sell before it implodes.
My new client Josh has a desire to create a different scenario for himself and the future of tech start-ups, and potentially for his future company, in order to reach a sustainable stage of continuous innovation. Our work together, as for many of my clients, will require a deeper inquiry into his own early-stage developmental challenges related to bonding, attachment, and in-out group boundaries, and then later-stage metacognitive capacities, communication and negotiation patterns, and likely sub-psychic inner dialogue. The plan is to diagnose where his areas of needed growth exist along the developmental spectrum, and provide appropriate intervention to create more depth and breadth within his areas of strength. This will support him to become a new style of conscious leader whose ability to partner with others will generate both innovation and a stable environment for the future.
Ashleigh, M.J., Nandhakumar, J., Trust and technologies: Implications for Organizational Work Practices. Decision Support Systems: Volume 43(2): March 1, 2007.
Leavy, B. Vijay Govindarajan: innovation coach to the developed and developing world. Strategy & Leadership, Vol 39 (5): 9- Sept 6, 2011.
Jiminez, A, Boehe DM, Taras V, Caprar, DV, Working Across Boundaries: Current and Future Perspectives on Global Virtual Teams. Journal of International Management, Volume 23(4): Dec 1, 2017
About the Author
Holly Woods, PhD is an Integral Master Coach, Organizational Consultant and Mentor to inspired entrepreneurs, innovators and visionaries who are ready to align with their true purpose so they can unleash the fire within, create a mindset where anything is possible, and benefit people and the planet (and themselves!) from their greatest contribution.
She brings a 35+ year background in human and organizational development, mediation and facilitation, and community development. As well, she’s built and scaled multiple businesses and brings a rigorous academic background to optimize the interface between human, organizational and product development and systems design. As an executive and consultant, she’s created or reorganized infrastructure for dozens of businesses, streamlining product development and delivery to scale and maximize meaning and profits.
Dr. Holly Woods is also the author of an upcoming book, The Golden Thread: Where to Find Purpose in the Stages of Your Life (Publication date 4/2020). This book will dispel any notion that your life doesn’t matter. http://bit.ly/thegoldenthread.