Collaborative Self-Reliance: Oxymoron, Malaprop or Breakthrough Concept?

“All are needed by each one; nothing is fair or good alone.”

“Make yourself necessary to somebody.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson: American Poet, Lecturer and Essayist, 1803-1882

There is probably no aspect of the American mythology that has caused more mischief or been a greater source of misinformation than that of the self made man/woman. Between the fiction of Horatio Alger in his popular Ragged Dick: Or Street Life in New York to the fact (mostly) of Jack Welch Americans can easily recite a list of high profile names that have become part of our “household” vocabulary.

From Andrew Carnegie to Mark Zuckerberg Americans seemingly have an unlimited appetite for consuming tons of media related to the cult of the individual or great man/great woman theory. Yes, all of these people made an undeniable contribution to the economy and/or our society…and none of them truly did or do it alone.

Some prominent American thinkers, Ralph Waldo Emerson among them, as seen above, did not necessarily concur with the self made mindset. However, on balance I think the mythology of rugged individualism is somehow sexier, more glamorous than Emerson’s suggestions and so it holds sway and is the dominant cultural conversation. For the most part the mythology persists and presents a barrier to collaboration that is holding many companies back and definitely undermining the working satisfaction of many managers

Today in a world as highly connected as it is we do not seem to see that the pathway being built by technology is one that will best lead to a future where a talent for self generated collaboration, interdependence and community accomplishment will be the skills for success rather than the standard set of leadership competencies that are derivatives of the prevalent mythology.

As a manager what can you point to in your immediate working environment that encourages or pulls for collaboration?

  • Performance appraisals…not so much.
  • Compensation structures…rarely.
  • Mentoring…most often focused around managing your own career.
  • Identification of high potential candidates for future assignments…look who is doing the evaluations, the kings or queens of the mythology of individualism.  

Is peer coaching, especially in a community context, a legitimate developmental and managerial alternative to historical practices?

The concept of peer coaching is of course not an unknown so there is some precedent but mainly it has been a one to one activity not one intended to represent an entirely new form of organic infrastructure.  

If you are a mid-level manager and not ruggedly individualistic by nature (Less than 20% of the managers in any workplace are highly competitive, many more enjoy the idea of being part of a winning team) and somewhat thwarted by the “go it alone” perspective fostered by many workforce practices you may be in a place where you are faced with doing something unnatural for you…getting radical!

By radical I mean initiating change from where you are in the organization, being the source of a change in approach; moving away from a focus solely on individual development to another form. How about moving coaching from the prevailing individual improvement context to a peer community context?

Honestly now…

Do you accomplish your results alone? No.

Do you deliver to the client or customer without support from other groups and their managers? Probably not!

Are you so focused on your own advancement that you don’t have time to devote to seeing what you can do to help a fellow manager resolve an issue? You are not that selfish!

Would you benefit by having several peers work with you on a regular schedule to share best practices, provide both advice and coaching, hold you to account for your own sake and be committed to your success? Please!

Oh you’d still be self reliant, for everything you have promised to deliver but, in a context where you are held accountable by people whose word, not just their bonus depends on your performance.

  • Would you be willing to approach two other peer managers and engage them in this conversation about developing a peer community? If they say yes you’ve got a team. What game will you have in mind?

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…”

                                            John Donne 1572-1631

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