The Leader must understand collectivism in the modern individualistic workplace as it relates to the most basic needs of the employee.
Perhaps the most essential characteristics employees seek from a leader are those of honesty and truthfulness. These combined characteristics are known as integrity. Integrity, and the commitment to doing what is right regardless of the consequences, defines leadership to a greater degree than any other single attribute. This commitment must be unwavering. If it is not, failure becomes inevitable since employee cohesiveness will falter, and morale will suffer. Without integrity, failure – in a veritable plethora of its many forms – becomes the default.
As we discussed previously, the Leader must articulate a clear vision to the employee of what the company expects to accomplish. A clearly articulated vision allows the employee an opportunity to assess how the organization’s values align with their own, and perhaps, whether they will be a good fit for the employee pool. Conversely, these conversations lay the foundations for group conscience. These conversations also allow the employee insight into the degree to which the company is going to take care of them; to ensure their wellbeing to the greatest degree possible. To the employee in this brave new world, these are crucially important considerations. Does the company really care about me?
By its very definition, a business is a collective enterprise, yet the fundamental concept of capitalist entrepreneurship is initiative born of individualism. So, if a company’s success is dependent on the sum of its parts (how well those parts work together), what is it that the Leader should be focused on? Since each worker is an individual, and collectivism is necessary for competitive success, the Leader must develop and encourage both.
Hang on! Isn’t that somewhat contradictory?
First, it is necessary to understand what individualism and collectivism are and what it is that each of these principles contributes to a company.
Individualism vs Collectivism
Each employee is an individual and each employee wants to be recognized on their own merit. Thus, from the corporate evaluation perspective, the enthusiastic and energetic employee might say that the company has put them in a role with commiserate responsibilities that reflect well their individual talents and abilities. In contrast, the despondent employee may say that they are being underutilized, their talents are being wasted. This, of course, may morph into other negative feelings, even aggressiveness, grounded only in the fact that they happen to be suffering from poor job fit. In the most basic of psychological tenets, it can be said that the employee’s natural temperament reflects their attitude toward their job.
The HR Chronicles put forth an excellent argument that organizations that promote individualism see a higher level of creativity, a higher level of collaboration, an increased sense of project ownership, and higher employee performance overall . However, promoting individualism alone, especially in a geographically dispersed work environment, results in a siloed and ineffective workgroup without benefit to the organization in aggregate. If the Leader fails to promote individualistic morals equitably without cognizance of the very human need for collectivism, failure will again – swiftly – be the result.
Individualism tends to contribute to tension in the workplace, and not to be confused with friendly competition, tension in the workplace is never good. For organizations that place a high value on creativity, suppressing employee individualism is certainly not a good solution either. Is there a compromise?
Perhaps the solution is not as complicated or intimidating as it first may seem. As we said earlier, business is by its very nature a collective adventure. The performance of a work team, a collective, is dependent solely on the effort put into the tasks by individual team members. Therefore, all the Leader must do is assign a workgroup to complete a certain task – together – right?
Well, it is not quite that simple…
‘Parenting’ the Group
It is in this phase of understanding Leadership in the new age, that all the smaller pieces of the puzzle that we have discussed so far (Articles one, two, and three), start to really come together. Mann and Lam (2007) suggest that collectivism influences social, cognitive, and affective processes in teams and thus, it is the understanding, potency, and transformation ability of the Leader that will affect the degree of team success. I agree. The Leader must recognize that collectivism is associated with the human need for affiliation, social relationships, and succorance . This breaks down into a need for protection and sympathy. Above all else, in a team situation, the Leader must ‘lead by example,’ essentially ‘parenting’ the group.
Consider the following: By modeling behaviors, the Leader may encourage followers to engage in analysis of said behaviors – the Leader’s behavior and of their own. Through communication and the projection of confidence in the team, the Leader will impact the team’s generalized beliefs about their combined capabilities (with respect to the assigned task). This in turn, has an impact on individual team member’s confidence. In short summary, through guidance, the Leader must show empathy and support to the team, providing the necessary resources that will allow the team to get the job done. Finally, the Leader will promote corporation among individual team members, immediately addressing any squabbles or dissonance arising within the group [13, 14]. The behavior of the Leader and how they address the team may also work toward overcoming any perceived inequalities among group members due to title or seniority. (The Leader must be aware that improper behavior, or the perception of favoritism, may also have the opposite, highly undesirable, and certainly unintended effect.)
Does this collectivist philosophy go out the window in the event of a physical threat or crisis situation? Is there any real difference in approach in the event of a major crisis event?
The Collectivist Need in a Crisis Situation
The only significant delineator between team collectivism and assigned tasks, and collectivism during a crisis is the perceived level of control one has over the threat or danger. Thus, the answer to the above question is, “No, it does not, it just has to be refined a bit.”
The physical threat crisis – for example, a potential bomb threat – is not a scenario that most employees train for, or go to school to study, or is a part of many university business curricula (but it should be!). Unfamiliarity with the situation coupled with the infrequent rate of occurrence and any potential detrimental impact to the individual (possibly death) contribute greatly to an employee’s ability to deal with the situation. In an office (or group) environment, this realization may manifest itself as panic. In a threatening situation, it is quite astounding how quickly fear spreads throughout the group, and there is often only a hair’s difference between controlled anxiety and mayhem and panic.
The single most important element of crisis management is that of communication. The Leader must quickly disseminate the message to their team that they are aware of what is happening, the crisis management plan (which every company should have in place) is being activated, and more information will be provided “in a specific amount of time.” (It is important that a specific time frame is specified and communicated, and the employees not simply told, “soon” or “when available.”) In a real crisis situation, the Leader must lead with empathy. When the employee feels respected and valued, that their fears and emotions matter, they are more likely to remain calm and follow direction, further assuring a more positive outcome to the overall situation. It is in this moment that respect for the Leader is either gained or lost. The Leadership role in a crisis situation is nuanced with all the same personality and character traits we have discussed to this point.
Although there is no debate as to the importance of Leadership in a crisis situation, why is it that some Leaders fail dismally, losing the respect of their team members in the process?
Failure in a Crisis Situation
Simply saying, “lack of preparation” was or is the reason for failure in a crisis situation is not enough – it’s a cop-out. What exactly does that even mean, a “lack of preparation”? It could mean a thousand things. A few of the crucial elements that contribute to a “lack of preparation” and that need to be anticipated and prepared for are included in the list below.
Jim Lukaszewski (n.d.) has done a very nice job of summarizing some of these in his post, The Pathology of Leadership Error in Crisis. While I do not see eye-to-eye with Jim on all that he has written, there are several concepts that we agree contribute to the “lack of preparation” scenario.
- Disbelief – “It’ll never happen here, that must be a mistake.”
- Silence – as we discussed above, communication is critical. This includes having a communication system in place to disseminate the relevant information to all employees, no matter where they are located for work.
- Delay – delaying getting information out creates victim confusion and perceived denial on the part of the Leader, further resulting in insecurity and further contributing to panic.
- Arrogance – the assignment of blame and refusal to take responsibility for one’s own actions; a veritable plague ravaging American business today.
- Search for the guilty – why undertake this at all? This serves little more than to promote fear and loathing within the employee pool. This applies to anyone attempting to assign any degree of blame within an active crisis window.
- Whining – complaining overall, rather than simply doing something about it, no matter what “it” is.
Successful management of a crisis situation is dependent on training and preparation not only of these but of these and many more aspects of business preparation and management.
For the Leader, gaming their emotional readiness will prove far more crucial than the strategic readiness of the company . This final caveat has its foundations in mutual trust.
As the post-pandemic workplace continues to be defined, the needs of the workforce of the future will continue to be grounded on the same evolving psychological (human) foundation that they always have been. The employee of the future will act and feel more entitled to be a part of the decision-making processes that steer the company yet will simultaneously present as more needy. One of the ways the Leader of the future will convey that the company cares about its employees is to model integrity while imparting an articulate and clear vision of what the company expects to accomplish, and more importantly what the company expects of the employee. The Leader must communicate a high level of confidence in and to the group, influencing the team’s generalized beliefs about their own capabilities, and more importantly show empathy to the team while providing the necessary resources that will allow the team (individually and collectively) to succeed. As a parent does with their children, the Leader must act as referee when there are disagreements, being careful not to show favorites, while encouraging and nurturing empathy and understanding among members of the group.
Perhaps the greatest challenge of all for the Leader in the new age is to walk those fine lines of executive responsibility that do not let the employee forget that they have a specific purpose and role to play, that the company should not be confused with ‘family,’ and that two of the greatest contributions the employee can make to themselves and to the company are those of personal responsibility and personal accountability. Traits the Leader in the new age should model with integrity every single day.
12. ‘Individualism’ At The Workplace: Is It the Need of the Hour? Should Companies Encourage it? HR Chronicles [electronic] 2020 [cited 2020 September 11]; Available from: https://allthingstalent.org/.
13. Hui, C. and M. Villareal, Individualism-collectivism and psychological needs: Their relationships in two cultures. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 1989. 20: p. 310-323.
14. Man, D., et al., Team Performance Measure. Embracing transformational leadership: Team values and the impact of leader behavior on team performance, 2007. 92(4): p. 1020-1030.
15. Lukaszewski, J. The pathology of leadership error in crisis. Self-Inflicted Leadership Crisis Response Failure Behaviors (LCRFBs) [electronic] [cited 2020 September 23]; Available from: https://www.e911.com/blog/pathology-of-leadership-error-crisis/.