If you google the term ‘repurpose’ you will automatically see the word furniture. If you select that search path, you see links that describe 22 clever ways to repurpose old furniture or 12 new uses for old chairs, and dozens of DIY links that help you turn old TVs into dog beds, wooden ladders into bookshelves and old windows into wall art. There is something appealing and satisfying for many when they take an old discarded item and turn it into something new and aesthetic. The pieces of furniture reduce to a sum of parts. Then they are reconstructed and repurposed. Wood is valuable and can be stripped, stained, painted, nailed, sawed, crafted, and carved. For those with creative eyes – the parts are more important than the whole. When you stop and think about it – trees are incredible; their provision is immeasurable.
Often we fail to see the parts to leadership and instead focus on the whole. Leaders in industry ponder what it takes to on-board and develop leaders; then they stew over the ‘opt-out’ phenomenon when their investment in talent results in turnover and churn. Academic journals publish research that tries to make better sense of the gap in female and diverse leaders and why there are more women in graduate programs but less in corner offices and boardrooms. Women make up 48% of the workforce, and yet they fail to hold even 25% of top leadership positions. Leadership as a whole has become unattractive. Like the old clunky 1970’s television that sits on the shag carpet in the living room, it is impossible to move and has terrible reception.
I believe organizations are focusing on the wrong things when it comes to leadership. Recent studies show that men are opting out of leadership in equal numbers. Women are not the only ones – men are not thrilled about being a clunky television either. Even our young MBA students have aspirations that veer away from top executive roles. This shift in appeal requires private and public sectors to begin a discourse on what it means to re-purpose historical views of leadership. Individuals are not enticed by the 60-hour workweeks, political navigation of institutional games, hauling a laptop home every night and weekend lest they fall behind, or the heavy focus on policy and procedure. To win back top talent that has opted out, leadership roles in general need to move away from a gestalt acceptance and instead be reconstructed. What parts still make sense and what needs to be re-purposed for better results?
I have worked with clients who have negotiated unique arrangements with their organizations that include everything from sabbaticals, leading short-term projects, sharing leadership, team leadership, outsourcing parts of leadership, to negotiating advanced education in return for short commitments and contributions. This goes beyond work/life balance (something slippery and hard to achieve) and instead focuses on micro-energy management and leveraging strengths that serve both the leader and the organization. These types of conversations and negotiations require creativity, risk, and willingness to change. It is about re-purposing.
It is unrealistic for organizations to assume these agreements will result in total retention. Instead, they should assume turnover and negotiate with top talent for one or two-year terms that allow both parties opportunity for exploration and off ramping without harm. The days of employment commitment are unrecognizable in today’s changing environment. Instead, organizations need to provide seasoned leaders with career experiences that move organizational performance while allowing for individual flexibility. Like a good oak, effective leaders (under the right conditions) can bring immeasurable worth to a business.
What would it look like to re-purpose leadership in your organization?
We have all worked with that certain type of leader who moves so fast and keeps their calendar so tight we only get face time in 4-minute segments. We walk with them quickly in halls between meetings trying to get answers to our questions.
We have also worked for those leaders who oscillate and wait until the urgency passes and opportunities fade. Staff meetings are filled with personal stories, snacks, and a sense of wasted time. Both styles can leave teams feeling stuck and dis-empowered.
Reflection, with a goal to be a thoughtful leader, can often be a mask for leadership passivity. Passivity is marked by playing small and having a ‘wait and see’ attitude where you submit your power to those around you. To let others speak first, you may not speak at all.
On the other side, the desire to be highly effective and efficient can be a mask for leadership hurry. When leaders hurry, the foot is always on the accelerator with a focus on task completion at all cost and sometimes without rationale. Relationships and sustainable results pay the price. Conversations are cut short, and short term gains trump strategy.
Passivity and hurry work against each other but they also are two formidable enemies in that they both:
The anecdote to passivity is action. Often action comes as a form of language. Leaders need to be purposeful in their language and use actionable words that create momentum. Passive leaders need to make declarations, commitments and negotiate getting work done.
Leaders who hurry may need to be stiff-armed. They need to slow down, look up, make eye contact and start asking questions. Those questions should not be ones where they already have the answers. Instead, they should begin with the word ‘what’.
The key to all leadership effectiveness is language. Language creates action.
Are you sitting in a passive leader role? Where do you need to take action? Alternatively, are you in a leader hurry? Where do you need to slow down and start asking questions?
Carrie Arnold, PhD, MCC, BCC
In no particular order: Author | Dog mom to Moose | Speaker| Reader Mom to human offspring Wife | Lover of Learning Leadership coach & consultant, The Willow Group | Fellow, Institute for Social Innovation