People often talk about freedom. Countless times it is sung about and addressed in poetry. For their freedom, people have taken to the streets and overthrown whole regimes. So it seems to be of great importance to us. In fact, it is said to be the highest good. And even in hopeless situations or in moments when we are not allowed to take action, we believe that at least “our thoughts are free.”
We are obviously yearning for freedom, instinctively feeling the urge for it. So, if it is of such relevance, it seems likely that personal happiness and, ultimately, success will be determined by one’s own desire for freedom.
Why? Or maybe better asked – what exactly does freedom mean? Both in private and professional life.
When are we free?
In my opinion, that is precisely the key question. Only when we understand this can we live, integrate and let freedom become part of a culture optimally, realistically and successfully.
Freedom as the foundation of a corporate culture
But let’s take one step back. What do I want to write about here? About freedom, of course. But which aspect of it and in what context? Well, I think that cannot be clearly separated or demarcated.
If I, for example, would like to consider ideas of freedom against the background of corporate culture, I cannot avoid dealing with freedom from a very personal, private point of view because the meaning of freedom is so individual.
In the end, freedom as the foundation of an internal corporate vision means nothing more than embracing the personal freedom of individual employees – on different levels, in different contexts and with different meanings. What does it mean to be free? Certainly something completely different for everyone.
Freedom is not about quantity, but quality. The very own feeling of being free is absolutely individual.
The sense of freedom shows up in different shapes and sizes. What means absolute freedom for one may not be enough for others, or even the opposite. However, that does not mean that we are talking about a different “quantity” of freedom. Apart from clear situations in which, for example, one person is imprisoned and another is not and both have the same idea of freedom, one cannot speak of more or less freedom. Not in the way I mean it. No, freedom is not about quantity but quality. So we do not have a different amount of freedom, but simply another, different freedom, because the idea of it and the very own feeling of being free, is absolutely individual.
Freedom is individual
In my experience, freedom is often described using the usual clichéd idea of advertising. Boundless. No limits. Not subject to any rules. Accountable to no one. Transferred to business life or our social coexistence, it would mean, exaggeratedly: “everyone does what he wants.” Can that be freedom?
We quickly realize that, at least in large parts, this would be unrealistic and above all not socially acceptable. After all, the human factor plays a role and may lead to the risk of a dominance by the “strong,” creating a mess. So for freedom to be “good” for everyone, it cannot exist without at least some regulation. That is why, in my opinion, this typical advertising view of freedom is only one facet of it and not a comprehensive or holistic view. In order to achieve a true sense of freedom within a social order, we must, as already mentioned, pursue a highly individual approach. For me, this means, above all, giving people the opportunity to live or to work according to their predisposition and inclination. Away from grids or forms into which everyone must fit, away from standards that everyone has to comply with, and towards a flexible way of life and work that suits one’s personality.
I believe that people develop optimally when their personal sense of freedom is served. To create the conditions for this, or to support and promote this, should be our goal as a leader. Additionally, we must gain acceptance of rules and guidelines and define a framework. Does that sound contradictory when we talk about freedom? Maybe at first glance. But this is what I have come to understand when thinking of this topic as a whole: to discover freedom, to really understand it, we must realize that freedom is not always the same for every individual. Especially the feeling of freedom. And yet it is always freedom that people are striving for when we look at it from the individual’s point of view as opposed to the view of the general population.
Why do we strive for freedom? Why is it important to us? In my perception, “feeling free” is one of the main requirements for personal satisfaction, or more importantly, for happiness. Being free also means, above all, to be free from fears, insecurities and thus to be as carefree and safe as possible.
These thoughts bring us back to the point where we realize that people feel free under very different conditions. One person needs almost absolute freedom, that is, as few rules as possible, while other people feel free only by limitations. Free through limitations? I beg your pardon? Yes, because for them freedom also means being free of responsibility and from making decisions. Strict guidelines or guidance, which at first glance might be seen as a restriction on freedom, mean exactly the opposite for these people, because the rules free them from “tasks” that scare them or cause stress.
One person needs almost absolute freedom, that is, as few rules as possible, while other people feel free only by limitations.
The philosopher Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997) raised another distinction about freedom during his inaugural lecture as professor of social theory at Oxford in 1958: that there is a difference between positive and negative freedom. Negative freedom (freedom from) means freedom from external restrictions, whereas positive freedom (freedom to) is the freedom to determine one’s own way. This distinction is particularly important in terms of the objective to be pursued. On the positive side, the goal is for self-determination and realization; on the negative, the goal is to create a space in which one can act freely.
What means freedom at OTRS?
In any case, to create freedom, we must also always accept other views than what one considers freedom to be.
At OTRS, we live the idea of freedom as intensively as possible. Above all, as individually as possible. We know that some employees like to come to the office, others prefer to work from home, some like to take on leadership roles, others are more motivated by being team members, some are early risers, others are night owls. I could carry on endlessly, but I think you know what I want to say.
Just as we want to give companies the freedom to be successful with our software, so too do we wish for our employees success on a whole level – personal, human success, not just professional – however they define it for themselves.
Companies generate their success by creating free spaces through which creativity is supported and promoted. In the end, the work of the individual employees will ultimately be much more successful if they feel the right kind of freedom for them to perform their activities and actions in their workplace. And that can mean a lot.
So, as a leader, I cannot “impose” on my employees my idea of freedom, because that would mean, only a part of the workforce would feel understood and encouraged. Another part might despair “my ideal” and come to work with less and less pleasure each day. And that would definitely be the last thing we want. After all, caring for happy employees within our abilities is our greatest endeavor.
On to (individual) freedom!