Potash Hill

From Round Earth to Flat Hierarchies

By Lori Hanau

We once believed the earth to be flat. The moment we discovered it wasn’t, the possibilities of our existence and what we could accomplish began to expand exponentially. A paradigm shift is a fundamental change in view of how things work in the world, making visible what we couldn’t imagine before. So what about the way we work in the world?

What is clear is that the established way of working isn’t working. According to reports that Gallup has been generating since 2000, two-thirds of employees today feel disengaged and experience a lack of meaning at work, costing the American economy an estimated $450–550 billion annually. Globally, the percentage of disengagement in the workplace is 87 percent across 142 countries.

Like all good paradigms, the way out of the problem comes when we see it with new eyes. Try to see the crisis at work as a call to shift how we relate to leadership. As challenges and opportunities approach whole-earth scale, we must cultivate new muscles for leading together, rooted in our innate abilities to accomplish organizational objectives and collectively impact social change. To change the way we work, we have to change the way we lead.

In the current paradigm, leadership is positional. We relate to our work first and foremost through our roles, our status, and our expertise in order to execute outcomes. This “boss” model of leadership requires those of us at the top to hold the answers, survive a universe of stress, and assume singular control over outcomes and others. Meanwhile, as employees, we feel more disconnected from our livelihood and we relinquish our agency at work.

I’ve defined “shared leadership” as “the practice of bringing out the greatest capacity in everyone by empowering each individual to be responsible for and engaged in the success of the whole.” This is a fundamental shift to lead from our personal and collective agency, in all that we are and all that we do. To lead consciously, we must shift our orientation from relating first through our roles, statuses, and expertise, to relating first through the genius of our humanity and equality, what exists at the core of us.

Shifting the leadership paradigm requires that we bring our whole selves to work, learning to lead from our humanity first. Think that’s scary? Imagine being told that the earth was round when everybody knew it was flat. Let’s be brave together and begin with the way we lead. We aren’t just shifting the paradigm around work and leadership. We are upgrading our humanity.

Lori Hanau is a graduate faculty member and co-chair of management programs, including the Collaborative Leadership concentration, and founder of Global Round Table Leadership. This article is excerpted from her editorial in the Fall 2015 issue of Conscious Company. Learn more at globalroundtableleadership.com.