Edward Marshall at the Triangle Business Journal writes that over the past 50 years, almost every time a business has a burning platform, the weapon of choice has been a structural solution. Top leaders get terminated. The company is reorganized. There is either centralization or decentralization; re-engineering or de-construction. More recently, the ultimate hammer has been the “Matrix” form of management, ostensibly installed to cope with complexity in our businesses.

What we have failed to grasp is that, just like you can’t save your way to prosperity, you can’t restructure your way out of the fundamentals of sound business. And those fundamentals have to do with how people either do or do not work together. It’s about relationships – trust, fear, values, culture, and behavior – not who reports to whom.

The Matrix is expensive. We’re not just throwing something over one wall to another function like we used to; we’re throwing multiple somethings over multiple walls and hoping they get picked up.

Some of the things don’t get picked up. Accountability is lacking. There are unclear lines of authority and responsibility. Decisions are made slowly, if at all.

People report to two or more bosses – some dotted, some hard line – but we all know it’s politics that matter. Leadership’s influence can be undermined if some leaders have hard-line relationships to headquarters. Strategies get sub-optimized. Processes become expensive because silo systems don’t talk to each other. It’s time to move beyond the well-worn phrases asserting that focusing on people, behavior and culture is “soft stuff.” In fact, dealing with people issues effectively is the hardest work that any leader will attempt.

Digging down into the stuff that matters in those relationships – ego, power, trust, anxiety, and fears of all kinds – is not the domain of human resources or the corporate psychologist. This is the primary domain of leadership in the 21st century. It requires:

n Collaborative Leadership: This is leadership that values transparency, walks the talk, engages the work force, builds a culture of ownership, and trusts the work force with the business. These leaders are self-aware, on an inward journey, and capable of talking about their own humanness.

n New Behavior: The days of command and control are over. It doesn’t work in this complex world. Leadership needs to be about engagement, reaching across the walls, focusing on what is right rather than wrong, on what can be learned from mistakes, rather than just the mistakes.

n New Vision: We live in a bounded world, limited by resources, climate change, and economic interdependencies. The old approaches to visioning no longer apply. Leaders need to boldly seek out a new vision, not just for the business, but for their communities, nation, and the world.

n Leadership Strategy: It is time to create a new leadership strategy that embodies all of these critical elements and instills new attitudes, values, and commitments at all levels of management. It is time to develop a leadership strategy for the next generation, not just this one.

Triangle Business Journal