Why do organizations need leaders? If you think about leadership from a tribal, institutional, or even market perspective, then it is about controlling information and appropriately using the power you have been given, in order to achieve the organization’s aims. But communications have changed that, as we move into the network era, a move that had its foreshadowing with the invention of the printing press, and has been accelerating with every electronic medium invented since. As author and historian, Gwynne Dyer, has noted, “Tyranny was the solution to what was essentially a communications problem.”
Modern democracy first appeared in the West only because the West was the first part of the world to develop mass communications. It was a technological advantage, not a cultural one – and as literacy and the technology of mass communications have spread around the world, all the other mass societies have begun to reclaim their heritage too. – Gwynne Dyer
While tribes were mostly cooperative, sharing freely amongst themselves, they had a near horizon for sharing, and were usually patriarchal for major decision-making. In networks, these tribal tendencies for control are not optimal. Neither are the more sophisticated control methods of institutions and those of markets. Thinking that the role of leadership is to act and make short-term decisions misses out on how well fully functioning human networks can deal with most problems without intervention from above. When managers and executives get involved, they often make things worse for those doing the day-to-day work. This is even more pronounced when those doing the work are connected to their peers in social networks and communities of practice that have established and trusted knowledge-sharing practices.
The real job of leaders today is to “hold the space”, and in order to hold it they need to first establish a space where connections are flourishing. Learning is connecting. In the network era:
- Leaders help make connections.
- Leaders are network weavers.
- Leaders model good learning behaviours.
- Leaders practice personal knowledge mastery.
Leaders do not waste their time with busy work, doing things that are best left to others. There is no more need for absolute rulers (tyrants) in the workplace. The measure of effective leadership is whether the organization can deal with exceptions and emergencies without the leader present. Good leaders are like good parents, letting go of control over time. Unless your organization is still an infant, it should not need leaders making decisions every day. If you are in a leadership position, what are doing to make your current role redundant so that you can move to the next level of personal development, not the next level in the hierarchy? Hierarchies and leadership by position are passé in the network era.