Developing Great Leaders: The Human Workplace Perspective

Guest post from Andy Swann:

To develop great leaders, we need to develop everyone. In the modern world of work, being a leader doesn’t require a job title, it’s something any or all of us can take responsibility for. Sure, some of us agree to be tasked with it, but that doesn’t mean those are the limits of leadership in any given organization.

Over the years, I have discovered many examples of instances where individuals and teams had taken the initiative to do something they believed was in the best interests of the organization, even when it put their jobs at risk. It’s this kind of entrepreneurial spirit that needs to be nurtured in all workplaces and forms the basis of great leadership in leading by example. Whether through giving permission explicitly, or creating the freedom for people to thrive in their own way, great leadership often just needs the organization to get out of the way and allow it to happen, rather than try to actively develop it.

Because organizations today are different.

In an age where increasingly, we can get robots to do the robotic jobs, what we really need people for is what they are great at – being people. It’s individuality that unlocks the future of great work and by unleashing people, we allow them to create impact in very real ways – through creativity, collaboration, communication, compassion and other human traits. These things are the basis of innovation, which in turn is the basis of a successful future, so by enabling people to thrive, we enable organizations to succeed.

Removing all restrictions and creating a free-for-all where anyone can do anything with no accountability will always fail, but by starting from a position of freedom and implementing only the absolutely required parameters (#1 don’t break the law!), people are given license and opportunity to try things in the interest of the organization. There is evidence of this working within organizations as simple as the software startup Rarely Impossible, through to the most complex global players like Schneider Electric and Microsoft. The question is about responsibility and empowering the individuals.

Our organizations are platforms for people, because for an organization to thrive, it only needs three things – the right people, in the right places, doing the right things. Leaders, both those tasked with the responsibility and those who assume it, are the guardians and enablers of that platform. Think of them as the helpful pointers that pop up when you use an app to show you how to get the most from the interface and use it properly.

This may seem like a simplistic view, but time and time again, the examples I encountered showed that when acting as a platform for people, organizations can achieve great things. When the basis of the organizational platform is the right people, everyone and anyone can be a leader, because the platform is set up to allow them to act in the interest of the organization at all times. Leadership becomes natural!

If an organization wants to actively develop leaders though, it needs to guide them as platform builders and skill them to:

·         Listen to user feedback objectively.

·         Provide solutions to problems (fix bugs in the platform).

·         Meet the needs of the user base.


In short, they need to be human.

Leadership expert Chris Barez-Brown believes that leadership should be refocused in two ways. If leaders are both creative and conscious, they become aware enough to understand what is required and do what it takes to remove that barriers to their colleagues (and the organization) thriving.

Developing great leaders is about enabling people to thrive and ensuring that in turn, they enable others. It’s simple, better and more human.

Andy Swann, author of THE HUMAN WORKPLACE, leads the development and delivery of people-focused transition management at BDG Architecture + Design.  He is also the founder of Simple Better Human, a creative organization development consultancy. Swann runs the All About People conference and speaks around the world on the benefits of taking a more human approach to organizational development.
For more information, please visit www.AndySwann.co.

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