Over the past hundred years, management has shifted from focusing on organizational goals and objectives to leadership that emphasizes people and innovativeness, and finally to servant leadership where the primary task of leaders and supervisors is to enable their employees to succeed.

In recent years, there has also been an increasing interest in self-direction and self-directed leadership. The self-directed leadership model points out that the best know-how may not always stem from the top of bureaucracy; that is, from the leaders or supervisors. There is less need for intermediate steps, hierarchies and supervisors, and employees are being involved in decision-making.

So, what does servant and self-directed leadership mean when it comes to practice? The leadership of volunteers can serve as one example. It is characterized by leading people by appealing to meaningfulness and motivation. Telling people what to do is not the way to go if the goal is to achieve results. People are not micromanaged but trusted instead. Also, at Citizen Forum, we have set up various experiments.

For example, we have adopted a “life situation friendly” workplace model. This model is an expanded version of the Family-Friendly Workplace program of the Family Federation of Finland. At Citizen Forum, we wanted to consider well-being at work beyond the daily routines of heteronormative families.

In practice, this means that we have many of the same elements as the Family-Friendly Workplace program, such as a three-week paid summer holiday for new employees who haven’t yet accrued vacation time. On the other hand, the employer pays more attention to different life situations that arise, for example, from caring for relatives or pets. This enables Citizen Forum’s employees to enjoy flexible working hours and the opportunity of working from home.

At the office, we take coffee breaks together. We offer our employees the opportunity to exercise in the middle of the day during working hours, and to devote two working days a year to volunteer work of choice. By volunteering, employees improve their skills and create new networks while being able to do things that are meaningful to them.

In addition, group performance appraisals have been tried out at Citizen Forum. This means that we sit down with all our staff to discuss together current development needs. In this way, we learn to better recognize each other’s competencies, goals and needs, and we have had the courage to discuss very difficult issues openly. In the beginning of the year, personal performance appraisals and discussions are held, and in the spring, we have a group performance appraisal. Also, personal mid-term appraisals are held in the autumn, and at the end of the year there will be a joint group performance appraisal and discussion.

Self-directed organization and leadership also include allowing employees to set their own agendas, such as those for the weekly office meetings and various joint development days. Extra rewarding of employees has been based on rewarding them with extra days off instead of money or material gifts.

The challenge with self-directed leadership is that processes are not always in order, and work practices may be varied and experimental. This can turn out to be problematic, from equality perspective for example, if only those who have the courage to be active are able to promote things.

However, the positive side of new leadership models is that they give more room for organizations to organize their work differently and change their leadership style. On the other hand, amid of all this change, we may still have organizations that, according to Professor Gary Hamel, have a 21st century operating model, but a 20th century organizational structure and a 19th century management model. Leaders may easily think that change is something they are guiding instead of realizing that it is actually them who should evolve the most to get things and development going.

Text: Leo Stranius
Executive Director of Citizen Forum

Translation: Eveliina Lahikainen