Connected leadership

How is leadership in a hyper-connected workplace different? It’s been an ongoing conversation here, as this comment by Stephen Downes, on leadership as an emergent property, provides a 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.

In preparing for our connected worker program, I reviewed my previous posts on leadership and created a short synthesis of the key points. With life in perpetual Beta as a guiding perspective, networked organizations have to learn how to deal with ambiguity and complexity. Those in leadership and management positions must find ways to nurture creativity and critical thinking. Too often there are organizational barriers that prevent this. The 21st century workplace is all about understanding networks, modelling network learning, and strengthening networks. Anyone can show leadership in these areas.

Another guiding principle for modern organizational design is for loose hierarchies and strong networks. This is succinctly explained in the definition of wirearchy: a dynamic two-way flow of  power and authority, based on knowledge, trust, credibility and a focus on results, enabled by interconnected people and technology”. As networked, distributed work becomes the norm, trust will emerge from environments that are open, transparent, and diverse. Supporting social networks ensures that knowledge is shared and contributes to organizational longevity. Organizations need to learn as fast as their environments.

As a result of improved trust in the workplace, leadership will be seen for what it is – an emergent property of a network in balance and not some special property available to only the select few. This requires leadership from everyone – an aggressively intelligent and engaged workforce, learning with each other. In today’s workplace, it is a significant disadvantage to not actively participate in social learning networks.

Leadership in networks does not come from above, as there is no top. To know the culture of the workplace, one must be the culture. Marinate in it and understand it. This cannot be done while trying to control the culture. Organizational resilience is strengthened when those in leadership roles let go of control.

Related posts:

The Connected Leader

From Hierarchies to Wirearchies

One Response to “Connected leadership”

  1. Ara Ohanian

    Harold, in a strange piece of synchronicity your blog entry about leadership as a cultural and group rather than individual property very much echoes a recent blog from Kenneth Fee. It seems there is a growing understanding that the great man leadership made possible by the hierarchies of the past is more difficult to maintain today and may not even be optimal. To paraphrase you – great leadership is about knowing when to let go.


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