network leadership = adapting to perpetual beta

Even five years ago it was not the norm to work at a distance. Employers wanted to keep workers on-site when it made no sense. Some asked for people to do virtual work, but still required they be on-site. Virtual work is no longer limited to mostly free-agents, as many salaried employees today work at least part-time off-site. It is becoming the norm and bringing change with it.

When people work at a distance, in time or space, an implicit shift occurs. They have to be trusted to get the work done. Management also shifts from measuring time to measuring results. A new culture emerges. It becomes more trusting. Trust is the glue that holds creative organizations together, not rules and regulations.

Culture is an emergent property of people working together. Leadership is an emergent property of people working together. It is not delivered, in a top-down fashion, by a select individual. One example of emergent leadership was the Apache nation that had only situational leaders, Nantans, who were in charge as long as warriors were willing to follow them. Because of this decentralization, they were able to fight the Spanish for over two hundred years, regrouping as necessary. A similar approach can be developed for today’s networked organizations.

Tomorrow’s leaders will be found among the aggressively intelligent citizenry, using technology to augment their senses. These people will need access to their own ideas. Open information and access to our common knowledge assets will be a required part of any new leadership model. There is no other way to deal with complex systems and problems.

We are now at the stage where we have some new models for work and many new communication and collaboration technologies. The next step in this evolution is for new organizational models. Some of these are being tested in venues around the world, such as democratic workplaces, eliminating bosses, reducing hierarchies, and self-managing teams.

“Ideas lead technology. Technology leads organizations. Organizations lead institutions. Then ideology brings up the rear, lagging all the rest — that’s when things really get set in concrete.” — Charles H. Greene

So basically, ideas are enabled by new technology around which new organizations are created. Only then do new institutions get built in order to support the new dominant ideology. The American scholar, Warren Bennis, said that hierarchy is a prosthesis for trust. With open systems, trust emerges. It takes different leadership to do the important work in complex work environments, part of which is to increase cooperation and support social learning in the workplace. Leadership is an emergent property of a network in balance. In this post-information era, organizations need to really understand networks, manage for complexity, and work on building trust.

Trust reduces the need for rules. Principles are better than rules in dealing with complex situations. Adding more control processes (compliance training, for example) fails to build resilience into the organization. Every time the organization deals with an exception using a standard method, and fails to account for the unique situation of the employee or customer, it erodes trust.

Let people do work worth doing, the tools to do it, and recognition of a job well done. In a transparent, diverse, and open organization, management can then get out of the way. This is how organizations can remain relevant in the network era.

The great work of our time is to design, build, and test new organizational models that reflect democratic values and can function in an interconnected world. Leadership today is more of an architectural task, or one of setting up the right systems.

Excerpt from my e-book: Adapting to Perpetual Beta

Posted on LinkedIn 18 August 2015

3 Responses to “network leadership = adapting to perpetual beta”

  1. shobana

    Democratic workplaces, eliminating bosses, reducing hierarchies, and self-managing teams. What a great way to work!


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