connected leadership is smarter

If diverse teams are smarter, why do most organizations only put one person in charge, and then continue to replace that person with another individual ‘leader’?

“In a nutshell, enriching your employee pool with representatives of different genders, races, and nationalities is key for boosting your company’s joint intellectual potential. Creating a more diverse workplace will help to keep your team members’ biases in check and make them question their assumptions. At the same time, we need to make sure the organization has inclusive practices so that everyone feels they can be heard. All of this can make your teams smarter and, ultimately, make your organization more successful, whatever your goals.” – HBR 2016-11-04

Should not leadership be diverse as well? Richemont, which owns Cartier, Chloé, and Montblanc, among other luxury brands got rid of its CEO and now each branch reports directly to the board of directors. It removed a bottleneck of information flow and diversified the perspectives and knowledge the board now receives.

“As for going without a CEO, chairman Johann Rupert said that “one individual cannot be held responsible, it’s unfair.” Richemont runs nearly 20 separate maisons, and the group generated revenue of around $12 billion in its latest fiscal year. That’s big, but not nearly as big as other multinationals that give their CEOs great power (and paychecks) to steer company strategy.” – Quartz 2016-11-04

I discussed leadership in networks in detail in Adapting to Perpetual Beta and mentioned how Stephen Downes provides a succinct counterpoint to certain popular leadership literature, especially ‘great man’ theories.

“‘Leadership’ is the trait people who have been successful ascribe as the reason for their success.
It is one of those properties that appears to be empirically unverifiable and is probably fictional.”

A conversation Thomas Friedman had with Google’s VP of People Operations, Laszlo Bock reinforces this.

‘The second, he added, “is leadership — in particular emergent leadership as opposed to traditional leadership. Traditional leadership is, were you president of the chess club? Were you vice president of sales? How quickly did you get there? We don’t care. What we care about is, when faced with a problem and you’re a member of a team, do you, at the appropriate time, step in and lead. And just as critically, do you step back and stop leading, do you let someone else? Because what’s critical to be an effective leader in this environment is you have to be willing to relinquish power.”’ – New York Times 2014-02-22

Organizations that allow leadership to be emergent can make better decisions when facing complex challenges that do not have any best solution. Connected leadership is based on temporary, negotiated hierarchies between engaged and networked individuals focused on a common purpose. Connected leaders actively listen, question the changing context (perpetual beta), and continuously sense and review their opinions. They do not direct but rather propose changes, build consensus, and suggest responses. As Laszlo Bock, says, they are always ready to step out of the way.

As our neighbours to the South finish a year of almost singular focus on who will be their new leader, it may be time to look at the entire decision-making network and fix it. Of course, this is much more difficult than just replacing the person at the top. Organizations will have the same challenge, but isn’t it a direction worth taking? A hierarchy is only as smart as the person at the top. Networks can be smarter than any individual node.

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