I was talking to a founder today, who’s participated in one of our programs, and he posed an interesting question: would it be better for his company if he took charge, or for him to take on a more passive role?
My response was to remind him that his primary function in his company is to facilitate the flow of source – a subject you can read more about in my book “Rebuild: The Economy, Leadership, and You”. It’s been written about extensively by researcher and famed business consultant Peter König as well.
The critical role of source is one that many tend to undervalue. Look at companies like Apple, or Microsoft. Both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were excellent sources, vital to the success of both their companies. Apple nearly collapsed when Jobs was fired from the company, until he was brought back and the source began flowing again. Similarly, when Bill Gates stepped back, Microsoft took a downward turn until Satya Nadella took over – a new source, a different source, but one who was able to keep the flow going.
To better understand source, and why companies often tend to undervalue it as a resource, take rivers as an example. Their sources are often small, nebulous things, easy to overlook – but there’s not a river on the planet that could exist without it. Vital as the tributaries are to make the massive river that flows into the sea, they can only be tributaries after the source has done its job.
Sources are often blocked, however. The function of source is to set the water free – to be the absence of things. To be a hole in the ground that releases water that would otherwise be trapped underground, either never emerging or emerging somewhere else entirely.
So the true function of source is not about an idea’s creation, or about the kind of person one is, but about holding at bay everything that blocks an idea from coming to life. Holding true to its clarity and integrity, and continuing to do so through that idea’s development and evolution. You cannot do that if you make yourself the focus – in a way, the best way to accomplish it is by decentering yourself while recognizing your vitality to the company.
In business today, we look at skills and capabilities, and we reward and see clearly what is tangible. To the extent that the source’s function is a hole, the absence of thing, it’s very hard to truly recognise the essential function of source and to recognise and reward it; even for the source person themself. We must look to see the spaces around an idea, learn to recognize what makes it possible, and prioritize that freeflow of ideas.