The well-differentiated company
Organizations often have a personality that reflects what the leadership decides is important. But just like with individuals, what a company says it’ll do and what it actually does can be very different. That difference has a lot to do with the level of differentiation of the individual. I believe the same is true for a company. This is not referring to a marketing niche that is “differentiated” from competitors. I’m talking about the ability to be emotionally separate but connected to others or the level of differentiation of self. How might a well-differentiated leader impact the behaviour of their company? In many important ways, and the ways influence each other. The list below is NOT in any order of importance.
Facts versus fiction
One characteristic of well-differentiated individuals is that they recognize subjective, feeling-based thoughts as different from objective, fact-based thoughts. They know when they are ‘making up a story’ about something and that it is just that, a story, an opinion. Understanding all the facts of a situation, whether they are positive or negative, is important to them. These leaders encourage their teams to share good news and bad news.
Conviction versus consensus
A differentiated leader will seek consensus, but they will not go against their principles and convictions. Less differentiated people will go along with others to avoid conflict or rejection. They want everyone to get along, to agree and will do things they don’t want to, rather than fight or flee. This going along to be approved of or accepted, or to avoid discomfort, leads to employees not saying what they really think. Leaders can create a culture where being a bad “team player” or “rocking the boat” is to be avoided. A good leader does not decide based on “feelings” or being liked. Decisions are based on facts and what would be best for the company, even if leads to discomfort. But it can’t just stop there.
Systems thinking versus cause-and-effect thinking
More differentiated leaders will think from a systems perspective in order to solve problems. These leaders understand problems are a symptom of the function of the system. The system is the company and all its stakeholders and society at large. They seek to understand how an issue comes about versus just “why”. This way they can get to the root cause of this issue, the system’s functioning, versus a quick fix. They understand THEY are part of the system, so THEY are part of the problem. Seeking to understand their part of the problem and addressing their part is important to them. They recognize that they, and the company, are a part of a system. This means they and the company are interdependent with stakeholders, society, and the planet.
Differentiated leaders do not impinge on other people. They are clear about what they will or won’t do while allowing others to make a choice. They are then fully responsible for their choices. For example, laying people off with minimum compensation is not being accountable for the full costs of labour. The company is offloading that cost, impinging on individuals, families, and society. There are ways to reduce a workforce that minimizes this kind of impingement.
The impingement of the planet by companies has been going on for decades. This impingement means that a company is not paying the full cost of the resources it uses. This is not responsible nor sustainable. It impinges on individuals as local pollution and on everyone as climate change. Note that these companies are a symptom of the poor functioning of the larger system that we are all a part of. A well-differentiated leader would work to reduce all non-sustainable practices.
A leader’s role is to support the viability of the organization. Profit is part of being viable. The trouble with current profits is the cost of running the business isn’t reflecting the true costs of running the business. There are costs in the form of “impingement benefits” that are paid by employees, vendors, customers, and society. One example is sustainably grown organic food versus food that is produced in the lowest cost manner. Organic foods cost more because more of the full costs are being accounted for. There are fewer “impingement benefits” in organic foods. An organic food producer needs to make a profit and should be able to make a profit. Profits are like insurance and support the continuity of the business.
Differentiation in the culture
Differentiated leaders would promote a culture where individuals are emotionally separate, but connected. Leaders would encourage employees to say what they really think. These leaders know that open communication is important for the success of the company.
A company that has open communication, is fact-based, non-impinging, sustainable, and principle-based, uses a systems perspective and is profitable. That’s a company worth working for.
Thank you for your interest in family systems.
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Learn more about Bowen family systems theory here.