Democratising leadership to push creative boundaries

By challenging the traditional definition and notion of what makes someone ‘skilled’, we can create a culture that breeds collaboration and agility

Reports of biased recruiting AIs have become fairly common over the last few years, and perhaps the most famous example is Amazon’s abandoned algorithm, which taught itself to automatically downgrade female applicants on the basis of previous employee profiles. Regardless of the skills these applicants had, they were rated as likely to be unsuccessful because they didn’t look like the people who had gone before. The story was embarrassing for Amazon, not only because it revealed the limits of what technology can do (attempts to retrain the algorithm were eventually set aside), but because the algorithm was only responding to what human bias had already produced: a team consisting mostly of a particular kind of person, whose own blind spots may have also prevented them from catching the problem as fast as others would have.

Stories like this abound in tech particularly, and should act as a cautionary tale for any senior leader unconvinced about the benefits of diversity. However, whilst many now understand and acknowledge the business advantages of having different backgrounds, perspectives, and skillsets represented in their decision-making teams in order to ensure diversity of thought and approach, most haven’t taken this understanding far enough. Not only must senior leaders be drawn from a range of disciplines and backgrounds; businesses must look beyond their senior teams to help lead their decision-making.

Companies that assume their senior leaders are automatically their most visionary thinkers and problem-solvers are sorely incorrect. This is a mistake that’s continuously made, and companies of all sizes across the globe are missing out on the rich insights and diverse contributions of individuals at different levels of their organisation.

Historic mindsets toward leadership

For many leaders, this old-fashioned mindset is rooted in history, reflective of Industrial Revolution-era factory floors where the average worker would have no input into the business besides the product of labour. And yet, still today there’s a lingering belief that innovation and big picture thinking are correlated with seniority. This is simply untrue. Some people, whatever their level of experience, naturally think in this way and will automatically apply it to any problem before them; others will always struggle with it, no matter how many years they have spent working. All these personalities are useful to businesses in different ways, but when trying to become more visionary, a junior big-picture person might be of more help than a senior leader who prefers to focus on optimising current processes.

And yet, still today there’s a lingering belief that innovation and big picture thinking are correlated with seniority. This is simply untrue

There is the simple fact that those at junior levels may be more exposed to day-to-day pressures that senior leaders don’t deal with, putting them in a good position to see new trends and problems emerging. When department heads work together to make choices for their people, without seeking input from them, this can result in biased decisions which do not materially help those below them. I’ve certainly seen this thinking first-hand, and the problems that can result.

As a society, we are continuously faced with mounting pressures to challenge the traditional ways in which we operate. There will always be a ‘new normal’, because people and society are constantly evolving. In the world of business, it will be the companies that give everyone a voice at the table that succeed this year and beyond. Success will require bringing in people from a range of departments, seniority levels and backgrounds, who can challenge groupthink and push towards a truly visionary approach. It will also require views from outside an organisation, such as from current or past clients. Together these views will allow a business to be more aligned, inclusive, and better equipped to remain competitive in the new economic landscape.

From this traditional top-down thinking and to democratised leadership

Democratising leadership is also about creating a culture that inherently fosters collaboration and diversity of thought, built on a line of communication that feeds both up and down. At Avado, we understand the value everyone has in our organisation, and view every one of our employees as a potential visionary waiting for their opportunity to shine.

Many of our learners come to us because they know they have more to give and want to learn to harness their abilities. Of course, upskilling is a fantastic way to do this—but learning is lifelong, and businesses must make the most of the talented people they have at their disposal, whether by assisting them to upskill or simply allowing them more responsibility and a voice at the table. We want to help other organisations embrace the skillset of their staff and encourage diversity of thought through learning. By challenging the traditional definition and notion of what makes someone ‘skilled’, we can create a culture that breeds collaboration and agility.


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