Don’t Call Me Boss

By Anna Drabik

I was sitting at my desk the other day when my company’s controller, Meital, introduced her friend to our VP of General Operations, saying “Meet Jon, my boss.”

Jon turned to Meital and said, “I really hate it when people call me the boss. It just sounds wrong.”

I found this to be a particularly interesting statement, since Jon, by formal standards, is a boss. Jon’s humility really struck me, but his statement also got me thinking about our organizational structure.

Awareness, not title, is what we should strive for.

As described in Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux, my company might qualify as a Green organization in its empowerment, family, and values-driven culture. However, when looking deeper, I found that it also embodies a Teal organization in its promotion of self-management, evolutionary structure, and focus on individuals realizing their true potential.

Reinventing Organizations suggests that leaders “put in place organizational structures, practices, and cultures that make sense to them,” if not, an organization cannot evolve beyond its current leadership stage of development. Because the leaders at my company are self-aware, empathetic, and curious about the world around them, they’ve built a workplace ecosystem that urges employees to do the same.

This comes in many forms, but one example is that someone who is interning can speak to or email the VP or Managing Director directly, and they’ll receive a response back that same day. There are many companies that have an automated social hierarchy detection, as Daniel Golemen points out in his Harvard Business Review article “The Focused Leader.” This is represented by how quickly it takes a person of a “higher rank” to respond to someone of a “lower rank.” In our organization, everyone is expected to respond to one another within three hours when they are in the office, and if they’re out for the day, within 24 hours. This simple practice reinforces the fact that employees are not treated differently based on tenure or title — and it pushes individuals to recognize their self-management.

We each have leadership power within us.

From that perspective, I’ve been blessed with leaders who aren’t stuck with a hierarchical view of organizations, but rather, as Management 3.0 Workout author Jurgen Apello points out, have created a culture of creative networkers who “choose to boss themselves.” We’ve been taught to create and grow unique value within our teams. That means an analyst we’ve just hired can bring as much (if not more!) insight to the brainstorm as a consultant who’s been working at the company for ten years.

What this freedom has ultimately allowed me to do is learn about myself quite deeply. I’ve never looked at individuals within my organization as people I should strive to become or even compete with. Instead, I’ve always been able to focus on my personal potential — my strengths — and further evolve towards what I know is already living inside of me.

As I develop into my own version of a leader, and as I move from organization to organization (and maybe even start my own!) I will strive to have the self-awareness, empathy and understanding that Jon has. I never want to be a leader who is stuck with an outdated view of organizations, but instead I aspire to one who stays grounded, focused, open — and ultimately — aware of myself and others. After all, I believe that this is the only way we’ll raise our leadership consciousness.

Are you willing to do the same?