The New Leadership & Stoos


One year ago, twenty management thinkers and agile software gurus met on a mountain top in Stoos, Switzerland, to assess and find alternatives to obsolete leadership practices. We concluded with this communiqué:

Reflecting on leadership in organizations today, we find ourselves in a bit of a mess. We see reliance on linear, mechanistic thinking, companies focusing more on stock price than delighting customers, and knowledge workers whose voices are ignored by the bosses who direct them. All these factors are reflected in the current economic crisis, increased inequity, bankruptcies and widespread disillusionment.

There has to be a better way.

We believe that we uncovered some of the common characteristics of that better way. For example, that organizations can become learning networks of individuals creating value and that the role of leaders should include the stewardship of the living rather than the management of the machine.

In celebration of World Stoos Day on January 25, the Stoos Satellite Netherlands has organized a TEDx-like event in Amsterdam. Join us. It’s free. Stoos Connect schedule. Live stream of Stoos Day.

During this sizzling day, we will offer lightning talks from a wide spectrum of well respected thought leaders such as Steve Denning, Jurgen Appelo, Niels Pflaeging, Franz Röösli and Dawna Jones. They will make you think, inspire you and tantalize you. If you’re involved in (or impacted by) management in any way, you should attend. Open your mind and be inspired!

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If this is all new to you, here’s my summary of the first Stoos Gathering

Chasing shareholder value is like trying to make your car go faster by rigging the speedometer. Dissatisfied workers, pissed-off customers, and lousy returns on investment are the outcomes of a broken system. The current business environment is a breeding ground for Murphy’s Law. Nobody’s happy and rebellion is in the air.

The business world must shift its focus from things to people. Living things trump machines. Moreover, people are inherently social. We cannot thrive — or even survive — in isolation. Connections are vital to creating value. And how is that value created? By adapting to change — and that requires learning. Bottom-line: businesses are networks of learning individuals.

Financial success not the ultimate target. Chasing money for its own sake is wrong-headed and demoralizing. Drucker had it right: the purpose of business is to create and satisfy customers. People in sustainable organizations focus on doing this better and better, forever delivering more value to their customers. Do this right and the money will follow.

For several hundred years, the machine has been the metaphor for the organization. Management’s role was to make the machine work efficiently. People were cogs; managers controlled human resources as if they were interchangeable parts. Bosses did the thinking; workers were told to get the job done. It was as if workers lacked intelligence, emotion, and initiative. Shut up and do your job.

Machines work well when you need to do the same thing over and over. They’re not so hot when doing different things is required. Denser interconnections have transformed the world into one vast complex system. The past is no longer a guide to the future. Small things have enormous consequences. Logic breaks down. Shit happens. Everything’s different.

These days it’s more productive to think of organizations as organisms. Managers become stewards of the living. Their role is to energize people, empower teams, foster continuous improvement, develop competence, leverage collective knowledge, coach workers, encourage collaboration, remove barriers to progress, and get rid of obsolete practices.

Living systems thrive on values that go far beyond the machine era’s dogged pursuit of efficiency through control. Living systems are networks. Optimal networks run on such values as respect for people, trust, continuous learning, transparency, openness, engagement, integrity, and meaning.