A Q&A with Collaborative Leadership Facilitator Miki Kashtan

Changing the way we work requires open honesty, a cooperative spirit, a willingness to cede control—and, yes, a fearless heart, says Miki Kashtan.

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Stephanie Domet: What made Jessica Morey and iBme good candidates for the kind of transformational work you do with organizations?

Miki Kashtan: The utter willingness to learn, receive feedback, and be honest; the commitment to collaboration that is real and genuine, which means, in particular, the willingness to ultimately not be able to control the outcome; the capacity to engage with discomfort.

SD: The organization had almost complete staff turnover during the years-long process. What do you make of that?

MK: It’s not at all surprising to me that this happened, because the shift to fully collaborative functioning is a profound paradigm shift, and not everyone is ready for it. Sometimes “not ready” means not ready to make the commitment, and sometimes a person may have the commitment and the desire, and not the capacity to overcome reaction and stay engaged when the going gets tough.

I read that when Zappos decided to adopt the Reinventing Organizations form of functioning, they gave their employees the book and offered a severance package to anyone who wasn’t ready to make the shift with the company. My understanding is that 25% of the company then left, and that, too, made sense to me.

SD: What kinds of companies are engaging in this work, adopting non-hierarchical leadership?

All the companies that Frederic Laloux is talking about [in Reinventing Organizations], and probably others. And I am unsure how genuinely collaborative many of them are. The obstacles are immense, because they are also internal.

I think the kind of organization that I would anticipate fits the bill can be either for- or nonprofit, and would benefit from having these elements in place:

  • Very clear shared purpose that the people in the organization feel intrinsically motivated to pursue. Any place that is populated by many people who are simply there to advance their own careers is less likely to succeed.
  • A strong culture of values that provides an anchor and a sense of connection. The reason is similar: a need to provide a moral anchor. However, values without clear purpose can actually make it harder, because it’s the focus on purpose that increases the trust and allows people to not have to lean so much on personal connection in order to align with collaboration.

In that sense, then, I predict that a company that makes a product or sells a service that isn’t clearly serving needs would have a harder time coalescing around the excitement and commitment to make the shift.

SD: Can adopting this kind of nonhierarchy have a positive impact on a company’s bottom line, or is this mostly about making a humane workplace—or something else?

MK: My understanding is that actively engaged teams do become more productive, and that collaboration, when successful, increases engagement and collective wisdom. That said, I believe that the fear of losing control interferes with these kinds of experiments, and I have read of quite a number of successful collaborative efforts that were nonetheless discontinued and the hypothesis given for why was precisely fear of loss of control. A similar conclusion can be inferred from David Graeber’s book Bullshit Jobs. Because of all this, I have come to believe
that control is ultimately more important to many in decision-making positions than purpose or even profit.

Shifting to collaborative structures is ultimately about prioritizing purpose. That purpose can be improving the work conditions for the employees, increasing capacity for serving the needs the organization is serving, or, even, being pioneers at shifting humanity as a whole to realign with life.

SD: Can you/do you undertake this work with leaders and organizations that don’t have a foundation of mindfulness?

MK: Yes, I don’t believe it has to be mindfulness per se. I do believe that some kind of practice is needed that allows people to find support for the challenge that this transition requires.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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About the author

Stephanie Domet

Stephanie Domet is the author of two novels and a nonfiction book for middle grade readers. She’s the cofounder of the AfterWords Literary Festival and a contributing editor for Mindful. She lives in Kjipuktuk/Halifax, where she is, indeed, grateful to be alive, in the best way.