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Co-founder of Raise and president of Women’s Forum, Clara Gaymard defines a liberated company by its capacity to “put people at the heart of its ambitions, not processes and progress reports” and leadership by the ability to transmit curiosity, autonomy and, above all, desire – three essential ingredients for individual fulfillment as well as collective success.
Leaders League. What is your definition of a liberated company?
Clara Gaymard. For me, it refers to a company which is no longer a slave to flow charts and systems, which, at the start were tools that helped facilitate smooth organization, but as time went on and they became more complex, transformed into things that pin workers down like butterflies and stifle initiative by replacing in staff the desire to do well with the fear of making a mistake. This explosion of rules and levels of hierarchy has made companies lose sight of their very nature and mission, which is to work together toward a common goal. A liberated company puts people at the heart of its ambitions, not processes and progress reports.
What are the advantages of such an organization and what are the risks that could sink it?
A liberated company allows everyone to find their place in an ever-changing world, because put everything into minimizing risk and you end up immobilizing a company. The first gain to expect is newfound agility. I wouldn’t say that this type of organization is the source of risk, but that is difficult to set up and requires a lot of effort from everyone to ensure that each person in the company understands their role and takes the responsibility that goes with it, but also that everybody understands the place of others, which is essential when we want people to play their full part.
How is power exercised in a flat organization?
The entire issue of quote-unquote power in this type of organization consists of giving people the means to be self-sufficient, to focus on a common objective more than on the way to reach it, while defining the steps all the same. It also means assuring that everyone is involved in a collective project, and that everyone feels needed. It’s not seniority that allows this to happen.
Can leadership ever be expressed outside of a hierarchical structure?
One mustn’t confuse hierarchy and processes. All companies need a hierarchy. You need someone making the decisions. Leadership rests with those who know how to organize work, to allow the varied talents and personalities to work together toward a common goal and, once again, it rests with those able, at the end of a concerted process and collective discussion, to take decisions and ensure that they are followed through. This is what a leader is, and it’s also someone who knows how to take responsibility for their failures when they happen.
Beyond this ability to take decisions and assume responsibility for them, what are the essential qualities of a leader in a liberated company?
I would say that definitely at the top are curiosity and an ability to listen, to yourself and to others: the ability to hear what co-workers are saying and to pick up on the signals of an ever-changing world in a way that allows you to, at the drop of a hat, revisit any topic. A leader must be able to doubt, not through lack of self-confidence, but in order to remain prepared for the unexpected. Obviously she must have a vision, be a teacher and be approachable in order to promote trust and inspire. And one last thing, she must be able to express joy! This is for me an essential quality for a leader, for how can you expect people to give the best of themselves without social contact, without moments of shared fun, without taking pleasure in working together.
Interview by Caroline Castets
Translated from French by Simon McGeady
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