Daniel Edds’ new book Leveraging the Genetics of Leadership: Cracking the Code of Sustainable Team Performance uses a DNA and genetics metaphor to describe how leadership can be a designed system. In these pages, he explores why systems thinking creates a wonderful opportunity for rethinking organizational leadership.
Edds feels more than enough books have been written on leadership. But most of those books focus on the importance of personal leadership and how the individual reader can become a better leader. Edds takes a different approach by showing how leadership can be a system that governs how the entire organization operates. He then looks at what the DNA of that system would be, how the system would be structured, and how it would affect productivity, profit, and most importantly, job satisfaction among employees.
While Edds did his research for this book on how leadership could work as a system, he came across examples of organizations where leadership systems already existed in such diverse places as the Mafia, the US Army, the Salvation Army, and school systems.
In Leveraging the Genetics of Leadership, Edds uses some very specific examples of organizations that have made leadership systematic, often without realizing it. He tells the stories of those organizations, analyzes how they operate, and shares his interviews with their leaders. In the process, he explores the same elements of quality leadership that many others have written about-the difference is he looks at how to organize the elements differently so they can work effectively for organizations. He states, “I believe the next generation’s opportunity will not be to acquire and implement more technology, but to design the ways humans must interact to unleash the basic human capacity for innovation, creativity, and transformation. If we can do this, the possibilities are endless.” Consequently, the goal of this book is to innovate leadership as an organizational system.
Edds argues that making leadership systemic in organizations will also improve job satisfaction. He is well aware of the statistics that show most employees are unhappy in their jobs; some are basically checked-out while others are intentionally sabotaging their employees. He states, “No one should ever be ashamed of where they work. Despite all the rhetoric about people being our most important asset, for the most part, it is just lip service intended to inspire the workforce. The data shows the reality is very different. This book is largely my attempt to give voice to the millions of smart, hardworking people stuck in organizations where mediocracy rules.” By applying the mindset and advice found in Leveraging the Genetics of Leadership, organizations can realize the benefits of systems thinking leadership. As Edds states, systems always produce more than the sum of their individual parts. They “take one plus one and create ten.”
Edds’ arguments are convincing because he backs them up by analyzing four different organizations and the purpose behind each of their leadership systems. He discusses a manufacturing organization that focuses on servant leadership and employee engagement, a Native American healthcare system that focuses on relationships, a multinational manufacturing firm focused on employee safety, and a school system. He also provides an example of a healthcare organization that shifted its focus from patient care to revenues, with catastrophic results.
Edds highlights the sad truth that most organizations do not teach their managers and leaders how to lead. These leaders largely had to figure things out for themselves, and in the process, they got feedback and input from their staff to help develop a system that worked for everyone. The success of these organizations proves that systemic leadership does work, and it is likely the wave of the future.
Citing a Gallup poll, Edds states that millennials want jobs they can emotionally and behaviorally connect with-jobs that help fulfill their desire for lives of purpose with healthy work-life balances. Employers need to understand that they must build a strong employee brand to attract millennials-or go out of business because they will have no workforce left once earlier generations retire. In addition, Edds discusses how workforce engagement is primarily driven by a worker’s relationship with their manager. Studies show that people don’t quit jobs; they quit bosses. Edds holds back no punches when he states, “The job of leadership is to take it off the leash that fear, control, and disrespect create.”
One way to help employees get involved in the company’s leadership is for leaders and managers to stop solving problems for them. Doing so is disrespectful because it undermines the belief that humans are highly intelligent and capable of solving complex problems. Edds says that instead of being a problem solver, a leader must learn to become a problem framer. They must know how to frame a problem accurately so their employees can learn how to solve problems on their own and experience the satisfaction of doing so. This freedom raises employee esteem, creates a sense of ownership, and makes them feel psychologically safe so they feel encouraged to continue to be innovative.
Much more could be said about Leveraging the Genetics of Leadership, but you’ll have to read the book to get Edds’ discussions of how Lean and kaizen apply to systemic thinking in organizations, as well as the role of servant leadership in systemic leadership organizations, and much more. This book’s new twist on leadership makes it invaluable. Every leader should read this book, then buy a copy for everyone in their organization to read, and then collect feedback and ideas from their staff for how to create or transform their own leadership system.