Abundance Leaders in a Scarcity World: Creating Healthier Organizations

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Some leaders create more energy, joy, productivity, and dedication in their staff than others. About these bosses, people say, “I loved working for them.” The memory of these bosses brings smiles to our faces. Sometimes, we can articulate one or two behaviors the boss exhibited that made them so great to work for; sometimes, it was the boss’s overall attitude or approach that we loved.

These bosses are, by and large, what we call “abundance leaders.” Employees prefer bosses with an “abundance” mental model, meaning those who see the world as resource-sufficient and power as shareable. Conversely, employees tend to avoid “scarcity” bosses, meaning those who see the world as risky and feel the need to hoard information and power. Abundance leaders have healthier organizations. Their organizations do better at conflict resolution, communication, and team work.

The Primary Traits of Abundance Leaders

So, what are the behaviors that set abundance leaders apart from scarcity leaders? Abundance leaders:

– Manage by walking around and are visible to staff
– Focus on the bottom line and are financially savvy
– Care about social issues, such as justice, poverty, and education
– Care about the natural environment, recycling, alternative energy, global warming, etc.
– Have high cognitive or technical intelligence

Taking Your Organization’s Pulse

Organizational health correlates positively with abundance leadership behaviors and negatively with scarcity behaviors. To check in on your organizational health, ask the following questions:

  1. Sense of hierarchy: How appropriately hierarchical is the organization?
  2. Timeliness of decision-making: Can people rely on appropriately paced decision-making to get their work done?
  3. Productivity: Are people generally productive in the organization?
  4. Appropriate use of power: Do people in the organization use their power appropriately without abusing it?
  5. Leadership’s energy: Do company leaders have enthusiasm or energy, or are they burnt out?
  6. Dealing with failure in a positive, non-punitive way: Is failure seen as an opportunity?
  7. Morale: Is morale in the organization high, with people feeling generally positive about work?

Increasing Executive Effectiveness for a Healthier Organization

To increase the abundance orientation in their organizations, leaders can do many things. Some crucial steps include:

  1. Use a modified, “open-book” method of sharing financial information.
  2. Include staff from all levels in well-designed recruiting processes for open positions at all levels of the organization.
  3. Use “micro-levers” to signal changes in organizational culture. A sample micro-lever is a “good news gong” in a central location that is rung every time the company has good news to share.

Abundance leaders, by their nature, are also drawn to 360-degree feedback. They want to know where they are effective as leaders, and they want to know where their organizations are strong and where they need attention. Abundance leaders naturally seek feedback and accept feedback more easily than scarcity leaders do.

Laura Freebairn-Smith, PhD, is a partner at Organizational Performance Group.

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Laura Freebairn-Smith has been a consultant for such distinguished companies as the New York Times and People's Bank. Her specialty is assisting leaders in realizing the full potential of their organizations through humanistic and analytical practices, while offering guidance in the redesign of infrastructure, the creation of strategic plans, and with organizational development. Laura currently teaches leadership at Yale's Drama School and diversity and team building in the Executive MBA program at Yale's School of Management.