From Contractual to Conscious Leadership ThinkStock

Evolving Conscious Leadership from Contract to Covenant

How leaders must change as we move from the Information Age to the Social Age.

One of the many great quotes attributed to Charles Darwin is his observation that it is neither the strongest nor the most intelligent of the species that are likely to thrive, but the most adaptable to change. Nowhere is this more evident than in the post-industrial workplace where old-school, authoritarian managers struggle to compete in a new and unfamiliar environment, using communication and motivation tools they learned more than twenty or thirty years ago.

To stretch the evolutionary metaphor a bit farther, it is akin to watching someone adjust the settings on a PC with a stone axe. Frederick W. Taylor methodologies are simply no match for the challenges of a VUCA world (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous).

Frederick W. Taylor methodologies are simply no match for the challenges of a VUCA world (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous).

In the last fifty years the workplace has evolved from Industrial Age to Information Age, and most recently into the Social Age. This constant advancement of the context and character of the work environment brings with it entirely new sets of rules, expectations and skills as it moves inexorably forward. One of those newly evolved contexts is the decline of “contract” and the ascendency of “covenant.” What do I mean by that?

One of the defining characteristics of “Industrial Age” management mentality was the misguided deification of the written contract. The inborn compulsion to define relationships in terms of “offer,” “acceptance” and “consideration” informed all manner of interaction, from the most complex supply agreements to the simplest exchanges between manager and managed.

One of the defining characteristics of “Industrial Age” management mentality was the misguided deification of the written contract.

Such was the nature of ‘terms and conditions’ of employment that we found it necessary to create adversarial customs and testosterone-infused negotiations to determine who was the strongest of the species and who would dominate the work environment for the next contractual period. While I will admit this form of workplace interaction is certainly more advanced than slavery, it leaves much to be desired as we look back in enlightened retrospect.

As we analyze the progression from an Industrial to a Social workplace, we notice that successful, Conscious leaders are finding it useful to trade in the “contractual” predisposition for a decidedly more evolved “covenant” mindset. The covenant approach to workplace interaction is built on the following set of attitudes and beliefs:

  • “Mutual promises” rather than “legal obligation”
  • “Abundance” thinking
  • Mutual desire to make things work out for the better
  • Respectful relationship replaces binding legal language
  • Creation of a bond of care and responsibility for the good of the other, replaces avoidance of enumerated sanctions
  • Actions based upon trust, rather than mandated verifications and penalties for non-compliance

While there are certainly dozens of other attributes and ways to characterize the nature of workplace evolution from Industrial-Age to Social-Age, I can think of none more essential to the success of aspiring leaders wishing to adapt and thrive.

In the organization of the future, the most successful leaders will be Conscious Leaders who have adapted to change and learned how to build relationships founded upon a covenant mentality.


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