women in leadership

3 Keys to Partnership Leadership

Is your leadership style authoritarian or partnership?  

As we look around the world and see how companies are run, governments are organized, and even families and communities are structured – there is frequently a theme of order driven by “who’s in charge” or power over. A hierarchy of who’s on top, who has the last word, who gets to say the way things will be. In leadership circles, this style of leadership is called authoritarian where there is someone at the “top” of a hierarchy that can tell those at the bottom what to do, when to do it, and who is okay and who isn’t.

This style of leadership is often a “tell” in communication and doesn’t value the opinion of others as much as they value their own.  We see this style of leadership in the military and for many years, this was a common leadership style in organizations.

However, the past 20 years of research in leadership development and employee engagement has taught us that if organizations are to thrive during times of change, if they are to be nimble enough to adapt to changes in the economic landscape, and if they are to be innovative in order to keep pace with the advancements of technology, a different approach to leadership is necessary.

The newer models of leadership goes by many names (360′ leadership, servant leadership, centered leadership, collaborative leadership) but here I’m calling it Partnership Leadership.  

The Partnership model of leadership is circular rather than the up-down style of authoritarian leadership.  In Partnership Leadership, followers are encouraged to bring forward their ideas.  There is a sharing of power and information across the “circle”.  Differences are valued.  Anyone can influence up, down, and across organizational groups.  Leadership is expected by all employees, not just a select few.  There is a positive corporate culture that fosters employees flourishing, learning, gaining experience, and coming into their own.

Remember how the father treated his children in the movie “The Sound of Music”? When Baron von Trapp blew his police whistle, his children lined up in front of him stiff as boards, and you see the authoritarian model in action. When the nanny comes into the picture, you see the children relax, enjoying themselves, and trusting themselves and each other.  You see a more equal approach. Then, when von Trapp begins to relax himself and gets closer to his children, we see a shift in him from authoritarian to partnership.

You may have worked for a boss that watches every little thing you do, who’s afraid that if things aren’t done exactly their way everything will fall apart, who has to be in full control all the time. This is how the authoritarian model works. I have worked with CEO’s who express frustration with getting honest feedback from their executive teams. This is understandable given the reward/punishment cycle of the authoritarian model. But if that same CEO is someone who inspires you and facilitates your ideas, who gives you guidance and support, who rolls up their sleeves and encourages you to use your own judgment and creativity, you are more willing to offer your opinions and perspectives.

The authoritarian model is unpleasant, painful, and counterproductive. Yet, we live with it and its consequences every day and it is present in our families and communities too.  

When people relate to each other as superiors and inferiors, we ultimately raise children to feel that they are less than the adults in their world.  The authoritarian model then gets installed at very tender ages and the legacy of this type of relating and leading is perpetuated.

Test yourself.  Circle the qualities below that you most frequently exercise in your leadership. 

motivates through fearbuilds trust
win/lose orientationwin/win orientation
power overpower to/with
male dominancegender partnership
one-sided benefitmutual benefit
manipulationopen communication
violence against othersempathy with others
giving ordersworking in teams

So how do we shift to a more partnership way of leading and relating? 

Here are 3 steps you can take today to shift more of your leadership into the Partnership Leadership model.

1.  Place a high value on people

This is a shift that must occur inside of you.  You only commit yourself to things you value.  And fundamentally, if you don’t value people, you will never create a culture a thriving, innovative, and adaptive culture.  While most companies say they value people, this is trendy to say now and talk is cheap.  You know in your heart better than anyone else.  It all starts with you.  You need to ask yourself:  Do I place a high value on people?

2.  Provide a safe environment where people can ask questions, share ideas and take risks

When teams share their ideas, top leaders can respond with encouragement and questions that also help clarify those ideas.  Let your teams take risks, giving room for success and failure.  Leadership by its very nature challenges out of date ways of doing things and the status quo.  Instead of feeling threatened by new ideas or feeling that you have to be the expert, try taking on the role of wise counselor or chief encourager.  Welcome the desire of people in your organization wanting to innovate and make improvements.  

3.  Draw more diversity with high potential into leadership roles

Provide women with leadership expereiences.  It is impossible to learn leadeship without actually leading.  This can be done through delegation, special assignments or projects, and new opportunities to learn and grow.

John Naisbitt and Patricia Aburdene noted in Reinventing the Corporation that the growing numbers of women entering the workplace – and with this, the growing acceptance by both men and women of more stereotypically feminine values in business, has contributed to the “humanization of the workplace.”

Next Steps: 

  • Think about how you were raised.  Were you raised to be obedient and compliant (authoritarian parenting)?  Were you encouraged to explore your creativity and interests (partnership parenting)?  How does this early influence show up in your leadership today?
  • Pick a day when you can observe your relationships with others.  When do you exercise the authoritarian model of leadership to get things done?  When do you exercise the partnership model to get things done?  What do you need to start, stop, continue to move towards a more consistent Partnership Leadership style?

Want to learn more about how you can get the transformation you desire?  

Click here to schedule a FREE 30-minute coaching session with Terri.

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