In the film The Matrix
, we observe a dark environment and an intelligent machine that enslaves, influences, and controls people. All of this is not a novelty in some organizations. In fact, it's a reality, with only some of these descriptions swapped for synonyms. To achieve an organization's objectives, there can be no internal competition. Teamwork is one of the primary tools a company can use to carve its place in the market, because if it achieves success by obtaining its goals, it will be a victory for all. One of the characters in the film says, "But I can only show you the door. You are the one who has to cross it." You can say that the door is a metaphor for the knowledge that an individual must acquire to be able to do their part in seeking the "greater good."
In many organizations today, innovation is not happening fast enough. Within these companies, skills are developed within silos, and resources are misaligned. When an employee has an idea to improve a certain sector or project, it takes courage to present it. When the employee suggests his or her action plan to the manager, explaining that this idea will bring the customer closer creates a second design. This idea means people first and process second, which brings a string of values and added benefit to the process. The manager then explains that it has always worked this way, without a process, so he will not implement this idea. The manager rationalizes his decision through long chains of reasoning, connected by discourse markers, just like one of the characters in the film.
Employees with good ideas do not only want to try to correct the things that work but they also want to go beyond the obvious fixes, focusing and expanding on everything that works. They have a strong work ethic and insist on bringing the best to the company. Others understand and buy their ideas. Their innovative features inspire others — one of the qualities of a natural leader. "Why do you persist?" asks the manager. When it is time for the annual performance evaluation, these employees are not recognized by senior management, so their ideas are rejected.
What research says
Researchers at the NeuroLeadership Institute point out that the exercise of assigning a pink slip to an individual during the annual performance evaluation activates the same part of the brain responsible for handling physical threats. It is evident that the traditional system stimulates competition among peers instead of encouraging teamwork, and that this can create a low-production work environment. Why are some good ideas born, but leaders are often barred?
The Agent Smiths of an organization
The "Agent Smiths" within the organization always explain that the first versions of this matrix were the perfect utopia — no need to improve anything. The skills of this type of manager are needed, but they are not enough. They see that a simple man can transform the corporation, which they regard as threatening their future. This is a case of bureaucratic and ineffective effort in failing to recognize employees with leadership spirit.
As companies seek to accelerate innovation and meet their growth objectives and revenue, they must get maximum use out of all their applications.
Denial is the most predictable of all human responses. — Matrix Reloaded, 2003
Denial for some simply means that with good practice, issues can be resolved. However, these individuals become chaotic time grips within the company, creating a set of followers who act because they were swayed, not because they were inspired.
Organizations and leaders with the natural ability to inspire us are relatively few. To change this situation, employees need to be encouraged to think for themselves and to self-manage. By encouraging free thought, companies are better prepared to face the ultracompetitive marketplace. The opposite happens in companies that value detail management. In this case, everyone is afraid to think and act on their own.
Sooner or later, you're going to realize, just as I did, that there's a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.
Some companies provide training for managers, but only to meet goals or to run an affiliate application. These managers do not tread the path they learned in the course. These practices make the company less competitive, and it earns a bad reputation in the market.
But what if we could all learn to act, think, and communicate as inspirational leaders? And what if some of these leaders were working in the same company we are? We would not need more chosen, but we would be those who would make a big difference. We would have more diverse teams that would help people develop skills related to business objectives, such as the ability to listen to different points of view. Organizations are having problems with Generation Y concerning this very point. Creating enterprise-level training programs for young leaders would be a constant reality. We would have a different view of the company as one that receives invaluable exposure for selecting business leaders who work in various functional areas of the company. A leader who spends his career stuck in a single unit, or the same type of project, will have an insular perspective.
We would have to facilitate the different types of leadership experiences. For example, as a strategy, mid-level leaders have the opportunity to take on different roles outside the management line functions, thus gaining valuable experience.
Minimizing the probability of shipwreck
Older leaders who are accustomed to the timeworn hierarchical order, the bureaucracies that undermine the competitive spirit of the company, and who are faced with a sea of technological changes, can minimize the likelihood of a sinking ship by following these steps:
- Identify skills gaps and correct them with empathy. Conflict management, influence, and self-knowledge are skills that can be acquired or improved with coaching, training, and lots of practice. If you suspect that you are in need of help in one or more areas, take a proactive approach and start looking for ways to develop and sharpen these skills. Do not be afraid to ask for feedback about where you may have gaps.
- Do not attempt to use hierarchy or your influence with the board to resolve problems.This type of formal authority over team members can breed various disorders. This is a very common symptom in many companies, and almost everyone knows someone who engages in this kind of behavior.
You have to understand: Most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.
- Resist the temptation to escalate issues to senior management. Look for ways to resolve conflicts and to listen to the problems of your staff. Consider all points, and do not listen to only one person but to all parties involved.
- Deal with emotional problems of your team members face to face. Do not address the issue through email, Skype, or phone because the lack of nuance can often be misunderstood in the worst possible way, destroying the trust of the leader. Demonstrate empathy.
All of these skills (or lack thereof) can be identified, developed, and fine-tuned. If the company does not take the initiative, the leader can individually cultivate these leadership skills. Results show a remarkable convergence toward a set of management objectives, principles, and values that are markedly different from hierarchical management practices.