dare to un-lead

In Dare to Un-lead: The art of relational leadership in a fragmented world Céline Schillinger shares her personal experiences in several work environments and connects this to a framework of liberté, égalité, and fraternité. For example, Céline discusses her time as the Head of Quality Innovation & Engagement at Sanofi Pasteur and the creation of the Break Dengue global community to fight dengue fever. The book refers to a wide variety of management theorists and organizational development professionals who advocate for more freedom in the workplace.

A movement toward more liberty, equality, and fraternity at work starts, as we have seen, with an individual distancing themselves from a dominant model — one inherited from the past, which has become restrictive and counterproductive — with others eventually electing to do the same. At the beginning, there is personal risk-taking and a sense of both refusal and encouragement, even if this sense only takes the form of a voice in the change-agent’s head telling them “no”, partly in disgust at what is, partly in disbelief at what might be, partly in recognition of the rules and norms that constrain them. In The Rebel, an examination of the development of revolutionary thought, Albert Camus wrote, “I rebel, therefore we exist.” That phrase could sum up the essence of this book.

The book first asks, “Can there be liberty, equality, and fraternity at work?” It then goes into each of these aspects and shows how these can be created in the workplace. It looks at leadership, especially from the perspective of bad leadership in order to learn from examples, such as — the pandemic, bad business, bad science, bad actors, and bad bosses. Obsolete models — e.g. great man theory — of leadership in our institutions have driven populism and disengagement.

When leaders are treated as heroes, as better than the rest of us, there is a sheeplike tendency to meekly follow their lead. In the worst cases, cults can form around them, in which they can do no wrong. Either way, there is a danger that we diminish our own capabilities and judgment and that we abdicate our responsibilities in deference to the mythical leader.

The book is filled with examples, both good and bad. It also provides concrete actions. For instance, a collectively created ‘compass’ can replace command & control structures as everyone is aligned but can choose how they move forward. This compass has to be a purpose that is “authentic, shared, and free of manipulation”. Equality can be promoted through peer leadership while it is fraternity, or the sense of community, that prevents fragmentation. Céline calls community the ‘present of work” as opposed to the often used consulting term, ‘the future of work’.

If you are dissatisfied with current workplace and business practices that over-control people, then this book can provide some guidance. It starts with leadership.

When leadership demonstrates its capacity to change, when it builds bridges and encourages change by anyone from anywhere, when it nurtures the solidarity of the human community at work, then it is truly transformative, living up to its revolutionary potential.

organizations don't lead the leader

Image by @gapingvoid

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