March 01, 2018

Full-Spectrum Leadership

To get a real sense of the leadership culture within an organization, we think it’s more telling to talk to the people who aren’t nominally at the top of the chain. Imagine Steve Carell’s boss character from The Office, Michael Scott, offering his two cents, versus the honest appraisals of any of his underlings. Very different, right? The qualities that constitute good leadership (and whether or not a leadership style is effective) change depending on who you ask.

But when an organizational culture acknowledges and values every single member as a leader, you end up hearing the truth of the matter from everyone.

There’s a whole lot that differentiates Basalt from the Dunder Mifflin paper distribution company, but the one that’s most significant here is the difference between leadership and management.

What is leadership?

If management is how organizations maintain their operational status quo, leadership is what comes into play during times of growth, crisis, and change. Thus, leadership is incredibly important to us: we’re growing, and because of the shifting nature of our field, we will always be in a state of change. Not that we think management is a bad word—it just doesn’t describe us very well. Good management is how a factory might run smoothly, with every person and cog operating predictably within a pre-set, rigid role. But because building design systems requires creativity, a strong adaptive response to evolving technologies, and an attitude of excitement and openness that allows experiences to inform future learning, we need every single member of our teams to be empowered to lead.

Characterizing a leadership culture

There’s a lot of literature out there about leadership in organizational structures: the non-hierarchical snowflake structure characterized by the Obama campaign, cooperatively run companies like Zappos and REI...many of which are different stylings of the up-and-coming buzz-term holarchy: a non-hierarchical structure in which each “level” of the hierarchy is considered to be both a part and a whole. But instead of applying an external definition, we wanted to characterize our leadership culture based on a few key interlocking values.

Passion, Authenticity, Trust, Responsibility, and Accountability

Our leadership culture is omnidirectional, and it’s reinforced by everyone. Firstly, every one of us loves what we do. We’re passionate about design systems, and thus intrinsically motivated to find the best, most creative solutions. Because we’re passionate about our services and products, our workplace and client relationships are imbued with authenticity. Because we bring our most authentic selves to our efforts, we trust one another with real responsibility and agency no matter where we work in the development chain. This willingness to bestow real responsibility leads to greater accountability from every team member, and to greater personal investment. Perhaps most important: because our leadership culture is non-hierarchical, the metric of success isn’t competitive in nature. The metric is twofold: knocking every project out of the park as a team, and being an excellent, supportive team player.

Being at the front bore of that wave is a fast-moving seat...we’re on the cowcatcher.
Leadership that’s embodied by every single member of an organization is how they get through flux and change...we’re growing so rapidly, and we’re in an industry that will not cease changing:

Our meta-knowledge that governs how we design and build design systems will continue to be informed by the world around us, by developments in systems thinking, and by the evolving needs and opportunities that will continue to arise in different industries. We love being part of the leading bore of determining how design systems are implemented. In order to do our best work, we value a leadership culture that’s rich in responsibility and trust, in which all voices are heard, and in which every team member plays an integral role in innovation that delivers the absolute best outcome.