The BackstoryJan 04, 2023
Welcome to The Auxin Leader Blog.
The Covid shutdown in early 2020 had a silver lining for me – uninterrupted time and the right collaborator. At the time I was 5 years into designing a new leadership model and was stumped. I knew I was on the right path but was so deep in the weeds of research and design that I was lost. I needed help.
As it turned out, the collaborator I needed was within arm’s reach – in creative director and videographer Chase Brantley. When you’re working on a project solo, you think everything is essential. Chase helped me see that much of what I thought was essential was not. What was essential, though, brought something fresh, new, and needed in the workplace.
The Auxin Leader is an uncommon leadership model today. For some it will seem logical and very intuitive. For others, it will be like learning a new language. Whatever your perspective, understanding the backstory makes The Auxin Leader easier to understand and more relevant.
Questioning What’s Relevant
In 2015, I was 25 years into a career helping organizations create a Performance Culture – training and coaching leaders, designing coaching systems, building teams, and designing performance management systems. I was helping a client improve their performance review process which included the company’s 8 core values and clarifying the difference between “needs improvement,” “successful,” and “outstanding.” It was a wordsmithing nightmare. That’s when the question popped into my conscious mind.
Is this culture relevant anymore?
At first, I thought the question related just to performance reviews. Few people like them and even fewer do them well. Over the following months I realized that the question was much bigger than just performance reviews. I was questioning Performance Cultures themselves.
Performance Cultures have been the dominant work culture for over 75 years. Even today, 99% of organizations in every niche (business, non-profits, governments, and education) are designed using a Performance Culture. As the name implies, Performance Cultures are about performance. At the core, they are built around tasks and goals. When people complete tasks and hit goals, leaders are content and don’t really expect more. If people exceed expectations leaders are delighted, but these people are seen as the exception, not the norm.
Over the years, Performance Cultures have faced several bumps in the road.
In the early days (1940’s – mid1960’s) Performance Cultures were more authoritarian. Leaders were “the boss” and employees were the “doers.” Everyone stayed in their lane, and “team” was a foreign concept.
Quality issues were the first bump in the road for Performance Cultures. Improving quality required talking and problem solving across departmental lines. By the mid 1960’s, continuous improvement became mainstream in Performance Cultures, and the team culture we know today was born. As teamwork expanded, top-down authoritarian leadership models were no longer effective. Something new was needed, and in 1970 Richard Greenleaf answered the call. A new leadership model hit the stage - Servant Leadership. It was a welcome change.
The 21st Century
The second major bump in the road was the 21st century. Performance cultures function best in a predictable environment. The 21st century is anything but predictable. Multiple changes are happening simultaneously, and the speed of change is accelerating every year.
When the speed of change accelerates there are only three options – pedal faster, adapt, or disappear. We know what happens when the strategy is pedal faster. Eventually you can’t keep up. Plus, work becomes more transactional and less meaningful. On the flipside, every year organizations disappear because they can’t adapt fast enough.
That only leaves one option – adapt.
The third bump in the road was more a roadblock than a bump – Covid. Overnight, everyone’s world changed. What we knew as normal came to a screeching halt. Remote work became the norm. The global supply chain began to unravel. Emotionally, everyone sensed their own mortality. At the time of this writing, 6.7 million people have died of Covid worldwide. Everyone knows someone who has died of complications related to Covid.
Covid instantly rearranged organizational culture. It was like driving down the road, and out of nowhere something slams into you. Covid was that something. For some, work ceased to exist. For parents, home became everything - office, school, family, and prison because everyone was isolating.
Covid also exposed something that was just below the surface for many people - the need for meaning, relevance, and growth in our work. For much of the workforce, just focusing on tasks and goals during the pandemic felt meaningless. It’s part of what drove “The Great Resignation.” If people were going to keep working, they needed more than just tasks to do and goals to achieve. And, increasing pay was only part of the answer. People also needed meaning, relationships, and growth in their work.
I Discovered Something Interesting
The collaboration with Chase had already opened my eyes to what was essential. What I discovered next put the final nail in the Performance Culture coffin for me. We usually assume that Performance Cultures help people get better and better at what they do. As it turns out, that’s wrong. Performance Cultures don’t usually create growth. What they do create may surprise you.
Performance Cultures create plateauing.
If you think that sounds a bit odd, let me explain. Performance Cultures are built around tasks and goals. Who defines those tasks and sets the goals? Leaders. It is a waterfall cascading from the top. When new tasks and goals splash into each person’s view, people adjust to meet these new tasks and goals. And when they meet them, what do they do? Plateau – slow down, rest a bit, waiting for the next tasks and goals to come down the line. In a Performance Culture, people tend to plateau at how leaders define success. Could they do more? Sure. Do they see things they could improve? Sure. But why put forth the energy if leaders are happy with what you are doing now?
Another Option - A Growth Culture
The time has come for a different work culture. The world, the marketplace, the workplace, and the workforce have all changed and we’re not going back. It’s not just that the speed of change is accelerating. In many ways the game itself has changed.
If you are pedaling while others are flying, you will always be left behind.
In an ever-changing world, just focusing on tasks and goals becomes a liability, not a strength. I propose another option, a Growth Culture.
We all know that performance will always be important. If you can’t perform, then you can’t compete. It’s that simple. The key, though, is the leader’s focus. Why? People do what their leaders consistently reinforce. In a Performance Culture leaders focus on the end measurement of performance - tasks and goals. That’s why everyone else focuses on task and goals.
A Growth Culture is different. In a Growth Culture leaders focus on what drives performance – So, what drives performance growth?
ROLE GROWTH is the key to performance growth.
The ability to complete tasks and hit goals is not the “end game.” It is the starting point. Most of us (leaders) are so preoccupied with “other things” that we miss the one thing that will eliminate many of the other things that consume our time. The secret to driving organizational growth is focusing on “role growth” throughout the organization – not just with your high performers. When people are growing in their role, they become more emotionally invested in what they do every day. They collaborate, problem solve, and innovate. They begin to master their craft when you help them grow in their role. They become the workforce you have needed and wanted all along.
Don’t wait on the right people to walk through your door. Take the people you have and transform them into the workforce you need. That’s the power of The Auxin Leader.
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