New Ways of Working Require New Behaviors

In his book “Future Work,” Peter Thomas writes that organizations need “a shift from a command and control mentality to a leadership style that empowers people and trusts them to get on with the work.” Characteristic of this new approach is the call for employees to organize their work flexibly and decide for themselves when, where and with what means of communication they work.

While freedom of action and the possibility to work anywhere can be an advantage, new ways of working also pose new challenges and require new skills. Companies are challenged with digital and cultural changes in a bid to remain marketable, and traditional organizational structures and workflows are outdated. Instead, flatter hierarchies are in vogue, enabling agile management and cooperation. Agility is now as important as efficiency and reliability. It is understandable that companies’ main focus is business development.

Many leading organizations offer their managers, experts and key talents training to prevent “their best horses” from becoming lame or running away. This group of people, and their professional, technical and personal development, are important to the enterprise. This training is undisputedly a valuable investment of time, effort and money — but another question lurks in the corner:

What About the Remaining Majority of Employees?

For most companies, employees are their greatest asset, but employee development is usually neither the focus nor in the budget. Managers are usually trained in how to deal with their new roles and responsibilities. Meanwhile, staff members are liable for keeping up with the demands of their job.

If a company is a garden, its employees are its plants — and no matter which genus a plant belongs to, it will grow, as long as it has the essential resources and the right environment. While a handful of plants naturally cope with harsh conditions, the majority have difficulty doing so. They are quickly weakened, sick and no longer at their full strength. Growing and developing is impossible.

The gardener with the most radiant and healthy plants is the one who succeeds in creating the best possible conditions and an environment where plants can plants to grow optimally.

With this analogy in mind, what is the natural fertilizer that organizations can use to help their employees grow?

How Can Companies Make Their Employees Durable, Efficient and Healthy?

Self-leadership is a critical competence in Work 4.0. The term “Work 4.0” is a sequence of the discussion about the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0) and encompasses the process of change in the digital age. Only people who develop self-leadership to a sufficient degree can orient themselves successfully and healthily in the modern working world. This statement is supported by various studies, such as the “Leadership Barometer 2014” of the Kalaidos University of Applied Sciences in Switzerland.

Self-leadership is an internal process and represents the art of dealing with life’s challenges and feeling happy and satisfied in the process. It requires employees to understand the values, beliefs, mission, role and goals that influence their actions. With this awareness, they can consciously use their thoughts, feelings and actions to shape their own situation and master the challenges of everyday work. This process, then, makes them feel happy and satisfied.

In addition, self-leaders are more agile thinkers, are more open to change, are more flexible, can think in a solution-oriented way, can maintain composure in the face of uncertainty and have a greater willingness to take risks (see research by Gregor Bräutigam, Thomas and Ingeborg Dietz, and Dieter Hinze).

How Leadership and Self-leadership Are Connected

Managers’ self-leadership skills impact the self-leadership of their employees, who can be inspired by the example their managers set. The way managers lead themselves also influences how they think about work and their employees, how they feel about them, and how they work with them.

In my master’s research at the University for Social Work FNHW, Swizterland, I found that leaders can effectively support their employees’ development of self-leadership if they:

    • Are attuned to and respond to them.
    • Support them in self-reflection about themselves and their challenges, which creates new perspectives and approaches to problem-solving and goal achievement.
    • Focus on personal concerns when visualizing goals.
    • Incorporate the resources of mind, emotion and intuition.
    • Put goals in writing.
    • Select interventions that allow for optimal self-organization, self-development and self-transformation
    • Enable a sustainable change in behavior and the achievement of self-determined goals through self-determined action.
    • Stimulate motivation and effectiveness through constructive feedback.

These behaviors scream for leaders to use coaching as a management method.  All it takes is:

    • Companies that create the necessary framework and conditions.
    • The awareness of the benefits and possibilities of coaching and self-leadership.
    • Self-leading managers who have the necessary coaching skills and are willing to support their employees in developing self-leadership within the framework of their leadership activities.
    • Employees who trust their superiors and are open to working on their development.

These points describe the possibilities and measures of the systemic, solution-focused coaching approach popularized by the psychotherapists Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg in 1982. The main characteristic of this method is an open viewpoint and a preoccupation with people’s strengths, which enables quick solutions. It starts from the point of view that it is more helpful to focus on wishes, goals and resources than on problems. Combined with a trusting, appreciative environment, the application of this coaching methodology can form an optimal basis for the development of self-directed employees.

Where Are You?

Are you and your employees already blooming like the plants in the garden of a professional gardener … or are you still waiting for better times?

“It is not important to know the future, but to be prepared for the future” (Pericles).