Organizations face more complexity in the type of work they do, the problems they face, and the markets they interact with. This is due to increasing connections between everyone and everything. To deal with this complexity, organizations must structure around loose hierarchies and strong networks. This challenges command and control management as well as the concept that those in leadership positions are special. It makes the concept of High Potential [HiPo] employees seem rather old-fashioned. Leadership in networks is an emergent property.
In networks, everyone is a contributor within a transparent environment. Effective networks are also diverse and open. Anyone can lead in a network, if there are willing followers. Those who have consensus to lead have to actively listen and make sense of what is happening. They are in service to the network, to help keep it resilient through transparency, diversity of ideas, and openness. Servant leaders help to set the context around them and build consensus around emergent practices.
There are three main states in the Cynefin management framework for social environments – Order, Complexity, Chaos. Traditional management models strive for order and use periodic change management to deal with complexity and chaos. But complexity is becoming the more common state in connected enterprises. This means shifting the focus from analyzing situations, to making probes to test situations, as shown below.
Image based on Cynefin Framework’s Complex Domain
Managers, acting as servant leaders in a connected enterprise, should spend much of their time focused on complex situations, where the relationship between cause and effect can only be seen after the fact. Actively listening requires an engagement with networked contributors who are closely in touch with their environment. Everyone should continuously question the contexts in which the enterprise is working. Appointed servant leaders have an even greater responsibility to look at the big picture, not manage the contributors, who for the most part can manage themselves when everyone’s work is transparent. Managers can then propose changes and build consensus around suggested responses. Connected leadership is helping the network make better decisions.