12/05/2012 11:33 am ET Updated Feb 04, 2013

Are You Leading a Team or Are You Creating a Team of Leaders?

A few years ago, a brilliant young analyst I had just hired asked me: "How are we going to work together on this project?" "We have two options," I responded, "I can manage you, or you can manage me. What do you prefer?" Her response and subsequent way we worked together has since inspired my leadership style. And has led to explosive business results. She preferred to manage me, and I realized I preferred that too!

As the world becomes more complex, more intangible and more mobile, our organizations face ever more challenging questions daily. This requires our employees to make decisions on the spot and be responsive to their environment rather than reactive to their boss.

To make such critical decisions, our employees need to be proactive leaders. Adopting a hierarchical organization with execution running downward is no longer sustainable nor optimal for a 21st century workforce.

My employees don't want to be managed, and I would prefer not to have to manage them. I have therefore started to expect every individual in the firm to be a leader in every situation. Luminary executives have always intuitively known this: Empowering people to lead themselves is the best type of management. A couple simple questions can guide this leadership style for you and your team. As a boss ask yourself: "Am I managing you, or are you managing me?" and "Did I ask you or did you ask me for something?"

Proactivity is expected from every employee. As employers have the resources in organizations, employees should be seeking out employers. This fluid structure espouses what cutting edge thinkers call a "holarchical" organization. Whereas a hierarchy is defined by the downward flow of commands, a holarchy is a system of interconnected micro-environments encompassing individuals' relationships and responsibilities. A visionary company represents the roll-up of these micro-environments into an organic meta-ecosystem -- creating a system that transcends and includes rather than directs and controls.

To build this kind of organization requires maintaining stringent hiring and people growth standards and a special kind of employee -- one capable of going beyond the typical capacities required for the position. The single most important attribute to look for when you are hiring is attitude. If employees are required to be proactive leaders and expected to make critical decisions, they need to be flexible enough to simultaneously perform the daily duties required of their position and go beyond the job description.

To ensure success for our organization, we relentlessly filter candidates on their attitude and continually nurture an atmosphere that reinforces and challenges attitudes. So what is your job, then, as the boss?

  1. Set the tone of the organization and of the attitude required
  2. Be uncompromising on attitude expectations
  3. Establish high standards for delivery and performance
  4. Reinforce attitude in every interaction in real-time

The result: an organization that is both very challenging and extremely rewarding for the firm and the individuals in it. I know that this system works from experience. In the last two years, this philosophy has helped triple our business. And while we, as executives, are ever confident in our ability to lead our company, nothing is more powerful than great people leading it despite us.

So let's accept that the world will continue to grow more complex, more volatile and more uncertain, and let's build teams of leaders that can understand it and respond to it.