“The power of an organization is the capacity generated by relationships. Positive or negative organizational energy is determined by the quality of relationships. Those who relate through coercion, or in disregard of others, create negative energy. Those who are open to others and who see others in their fullness create positive energy.” Margaret Wheatley, Leadership from the New Science
Do you work in a WE or a ME centered workplace?
For most of you the answer will be a ME workplace. What’s the difference – and why does it matter?
ME or I centered workplaces are still the norm. They are characterized by cultures that are high on fear and low on trust. People don’t feel or believe they can speak honestly and contribute ideas and opinions freely. Organizations preach teams but many team members operate as lone wolves.
In ME based workplaces, employees feel they have to protect turf, leaders are perceived as ineffectual or autocratic and self-protection is the dominant feeling Anxiety, frustration and resentment are the common emotions found in ME centered workplaces.
WE focused workplaces bring out the best in their employees – at every level. WE-centric leaders are characterized by caring, courage and vision and to use the old expression, walk the talk. Environments that foster WE centered behaviors encourage diversity of thought and expression of feeling. They encourage risk-taking and tolerate “failure.” WE cultures support sharing and discourage territoriality. They are dedicated to fairness and the achievement of the full potential within everyone. Confidence, passion and satisfaction are the common emotions found in a WE centered workplace.
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
Despite decades of discussions and program implementation of leadership and team building, the consensus is that most workplaces are still not healthy, vibrant relationship-building systems. In fact, many are downright toxic. There are many reasons for this. The “legacy” of top – down, command and control thinking and management still prevails in most organizations. Fear is the dominant emotional driver in too many workplaces. Most organizations still don’t understand and factor in the human equation in terms of policies and practices. Communication and emotional intelligence are still relegated to the territory of “soft skills” and are often not considered as essential job requirements. In fact, too many business pundits still question their validity in the business environment!
Most organizations are either clueless about the impact of power dynamics or just don’t care. Unhealthy competition, gossip and positional power struggles are often the result.
Lack of organizational trust and transparency is growing. Even employees, who like their jobs or their managers, often report they don’t trust their company or its leaders. Economic and societal pressures always exacerbate individual, group and organizational systems and often reveal the weaknesses that are concealed during “rosier” times.
FROM US TO THEM
It’s easy to find a list of the cultural forces and organizational factors that contribute to Me based workplaces. Many people feel trapped within organizations and teams that are completely out of step with their values. They want more collaboration, trust and partnership in their workplace relationships and are not interested in engaging in power plays.
But regardless of the influence of structural norms and hierarchical influences within a workplace, every person has a critically important role to play in creating more WE focused work environments.
What WE bring to the table matters. Cultures are important but they are merely the aggregate of mindsets. Creating more WE based cultures, depends on each and every one of us getting far better at two critical competencies of emotional intelligence – self awareness and self-reflection. While blame is common in ME centered workplaces, self-responsibility and self- management are the cornerstones of WE based cultures. This is not to say the actions of the organization or institution in which WE operate are not important, but ultimately WE have a choice in how to respond. WE focused cultures cannot flourish unless there is accountability at all levels of responsibility.
SOCIAL INTELLIGENCE – THE NEW SCIENCE OF WE
“Perhaps the most stunning recent discovery in behavioral neuroscience is the identification of mirror neurons in widely dispersed areas of the brain. Italian neuroscientists found them by accident while monitoring a particular cell in a monkey’s brain that fired only when the monkey raised its arm. One day a lab assistant lifted an ice cream cone to his own mouth and triggered a reaction in the monkey’s cell. It was the first evidence that the brain is peppered with neurons that mimic, or mirror, what another being does. This previously unknown class of brain cells operates as neural Wi-Fi, allowing us to navigate our social world. When we consciously or unconsciously detect someone else’s emotions through their actions, our mirror neurons reproduce those emotions. Collectively, these neurons may create an instant sense of shared experience.” Social Neuroscience & the Biology of Leadership
What you do matters. What they do matters. There is nothing “woo-woo” about emotional contagion. It’s real. Emotions, whatever they are, spread. Leaders who lead with fear (whether they are consciously aware of it or not) spread fear. Leaders who lead with empathy – spread empathy. Empathy is the ultimate contributor to building WE based cultures. Findings in neuro-research carry important implications for the ways in which we organize our workplaces, our schools, our families and our societies. Our brains work on an organizing principle with two primary tasks – minimize threat and maximize reward.
The need for status (recognition), certainty (safety), autonomy (self-mastery), relatedness (affiliation, love) and fairness are either satisfied or frustrated by WE or ME cultures.
The latest scientific findings clearly show that social needs are critical to human and social development. Contrary to centuries of contrary beliefs, our brains are wired to work together within the social context of community.
BUILDING THE WE IN ME
Developing the WE factor inside of us takes work. It’s easy (for most of us) to jump into the ME vs. YOU pool. Our entire culture is organized to support that. WE isn’t popular. Oh yes, we teach our kiddies to share their toys and not smack little Jacob in nursery school, but as a culture we are still modeling aggression, attack and ruthless competition as our primary values.
So building our WE behaviors can take vigilance and practice. Here are some of the basics:
Whether we live and work in ME or WE cultures depends a great deal on US. Each time we interact with someone in the workplace (and outside of it) we make a deposit or withdrawal into the Bank of WE or ME. The problem in most workplaces is that the bank is overdrawn. All of the big and little daily interactions have drained the coffers.
So how each of us acts now, will decide the cultures of the future.
Thanks for reading!
Louise Altman, Partner, Intentional Communication Consultants
Join us here if you’d like to receive our occasional general mailings!