Casium review

Liberating leadership

Casium

5 JANUARY  2010

In “Freedom, Inc.” Brian Carney (Wall Street Journal) and professor Isaac Getz (ESCP Europe) look at some companies which have moved away from a hierarchical, bureaucratic mindset to a more freedom-based framework. The liberated leaders of these companies let workers self-direct in an environment of trust and equality.

The authors use the terminology of one of their liberated leaders, Jean-François Zobrist, to distinguish two forms of business organizations. The freedom-inspired organizations are called “why” companies as opposed to the more traditional, hierarchical sort called “how” companies. In “how” companies managers tell workers how to do their tasks and reward workers based on how well they follow those instructions. A “why” company replaces all those how instructions with a question: Why are you doing what you are doing? The liberated leader of a “why” company does not tell people how to do their job but invites them to do what best fits the vision of the company. Liberated leaders focus on ends not means, and help workers in their search for the best means.

The leaders of the freedom-based “why” companies studied by Carney and Getz take into account three desires of their workers. The first is the desire to self-direct – self-direction is enabled by the fact that liberating leaders do not derive satisfaction from dictating the hows. Secondly, there is the need to grow and explore new opportunities. Workers can move around the company, to the extent that they wish to do so, and the company does its utmost to provide the corresponding training support. Third, there is the yearning for equality. “Why” companies are not hierarchies which means that intrinsic equality and dignity are primary values and that various symbols of hierarchical privilege are shunned.

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