leading beyond automation

As we enter the network era, we see that leadership is an emergent property of a network in balance and not some special property available to only the select few. Effective knowledge networks require leadership from everyone – an aggressively intelligent and engaged workforce, learning with each other. Positional leadership, by the authority of some hierarchy, is giving way to reputational leadership, as determined by the myriad feedback loops of the network. To lead in a network, is to learn in a network, as relationships and conditions change. Anyone can show leadership, not just managers or those with ‘high potential’.

Network leadership assumes human creative potential can be realized in supportive and challenging environments by engaging everyone. In networks, everyone can be a contributor within a transparent environment. Anyone can lead in a network, if there are willing followers. Leadership in networks is developed through the reputation of one’s actions. Those who have the 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. These servant leaders can help to set the context around them and build consensus around emergent practices.

Networked leaders make better decisions by actively listening to networked contributors who are closely in touch with their environment. As everyone is continuously questioning the contexts in which the enterprise is working, appointed servant leaders can look at the big picture, not manage the contributors, who for the most part can manage themselves when everyone’s work is transparent. With an informed perspective, they can propose changes and build consensus around suggested responses. Connected leadership is helping the network make better decisions.

Adapting to a networked life in perpetual beta means that people have to learn how to deal with more ambiguity and complexity at work. Automation of routine and standardized work is forcing people to do do more non-routine manual and cognitive work. If the work can be mapped and analyzed, it will be automated. As networked, distributed, non-routine work becomes the norm, trust will emerge only in those work environments that are open, transparent, and diverse. Trust is necessary to ensure that implicit knowledge flows, which contributes to organizational longevity. Organizations need to learn as fast as their environments. Constant experimentation must be the order of each day.

Therefore, those in leadership and management positions today must find ways to nurture creativity and critical thinking. Management must set the initial example of transparency and working out loud. In addition, self-management is required at all levels. When there is no one to defer work to, everyone sets an example through their actions. In this environment everyone is learning and everyone is teaching by example. As a result, work gets done very quickly. From this foundation, today’s organizations can prepare for a new world of work. Machines will continue to replace jobs but people can create new work roles that are creative and social, beyond the reach of automation.

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