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Former French prime minister and currently the president of Fondation Prospective et Innovation, a public interest organization, Jean-Pierre Raffarin also lectures on leadership at the pan-European business school ESCP. Here, he talks about the different components that go into making a performance lever within today’s modern business, more attuned to influence than to authority.
Leaders League. How would you define a liberated business?
Jean-Pierre Raffarin. The liberated business is an organization where human connections dominate administrative or legal ones. Decentralization, leadership, coworking, outsourcing, connectivity and corporate culture are the principles of management. In the liberated business, the project and an awareness of responsibilities replace the established hierarchical structures when promoting a sense of identity. More often than not these companies thrive because of their staff.
What are the advantages, and indeed the limits, of this type of flat organization?
Liberated companies are more dynamic, creative and responsible, and when you get down to it, more audacious. They are also messier, less hierarchic and less structured. More flexible and versatile, they are also very time-consuming. They are at once pushed along by free exchange and liberal nations and hindered by those nations which are more nationalist and protectionist.
What form does power take in the liberated business?
Hierarchy takes a back seat to action. To act, everyone pilots their own project, but in order to set out and oversee the projects, the hierarchy must be repositioned, although it still plays an important role when it comes to time management and planning. Oriented upstream (recruitment, strategy, agenda, etc.) the hierarchy is also a downstream force (results, evaluations, etc.)
In general, we can identify several types of leadership: autocratic, overbearing, cooperative, liberal, etc. Outside of the hierarchy, leadership is manifested by influence – notably cultural –, performance, experience – or know how – awareness – ethics, strategy – standards, and so on.
In this area, one must, however, take into account cultural differences between the continents. In the US, a leader is a professional who has mastered leadership techniques (public-speaking, running teams, media savvy, etc.). In Europe, leadership is viewed as a talent and the leader is an artist of considerable charm. In Asia, the leader is discrete, does not embody the project, rather he or she is its conductor, to the extent that it can be difficult to identify who calls the shots in a Chinese group. These differences are proof that management is still, at its heart, a cultural endeavor.
What essential qualities must a leader have in this type of organization?
The number one quality required of a leader in this type of organization is sobriety. Better to lead by example than put yourself forward. The leader is not the star. They assume the responsibility and eschew the limelight. Availability and openness are, in this case, the major qualities. Their motto: be discrete but determined and know where you’re going. Asian culture is particularly adept at this type of approach.
Translated from French by Simon McGeady
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