‘Copying in your boss every time you send an email is just a way of avoiding your own responsibility,’ said the managing director of a bank to me the other day. And how right he is! Some bosses demand to be copied in on everything, labouring under the illusion that this will give them greater control; and some subordinates always copy in their boss just in case … The effect is the same in both instances: the boss’s in-box gets clogged up with unnecessary information, with the consequent loss of time that this entails; but this is not the worst of it: working practices such as this actively undermine the development of leadership qualities in companies where they are prevalent.

In the current climate, enabling employees to become true leaders is a question of ‘adaptive change’ rather than being a merely technical issue, as Ronald Heifetz and Alexander Grashow, academics at the Harvard Kennedy School would put it. While technical problems can be solved by applying a particular formula, adaptive change involves changing oneself in order to meet one’s objectives; and in many cases this process of inner change brings forth deep-seated fears or insecurities. However, being a leader entails creating a challenging environment which stretches people and makes them face up to their own inner contradictions and the pressure of taking decisions. All of this calls for new ways of thinking, courage, relinquishing control, rewarding initiative and having confidence in the work of those below you– all of which are qualities that are not always present in the workplace.

It would most definitely be a shame if the current crisis doesn’t prompt us to improve our leadership style, and to make it more adaptive, more inspiring, and to set greater challenges for those who report to us; and,  it goes without saying, insisting that we are copied in on all communications isn’t exactly the best way to achieve this.

First published in Spanish in Expansión 17/02/2012

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