leadership in perpetual beta

We believe technology is changing culture everywhere in the world, leading to the emergence of a new model of leadership.

Employees are now more confident, more mobile, more demanding, more idealistic in some cases, and less willing to be company people. Employees, more than ever, are individualists.

Leaders, in response, are learning to be less the visionary, less the sage, less the objective-setter, and more the shaper, the connector, the questioner. And yet at times, they also need to intervene, to insist, to control. It’s a fluid role, its shape not yet clear.

What is clear, as leaders forge their own new models, is that the old ways no longer work. CEOs can’t fall back on best practice. They have to be original. Leadership, more than ever, needs creativity. And achieving the impossible needs the most radical kind of creativity. – Wolff Olins Report 2015

Leadership in networks is exercised through reputation, not positional authority. Having influence in multiple networks, not just the organization, makes a leader even more effective. The ability to span networks becomes important as organizational lifespans decrease and worker mobility increases. To remain connected to the changes in their networks, good leaders are curious and promote experimentation, but do not need to control it. Leadership in networks is helping the network make better decisions, and this requires a focus on the best organizational design to meet the changing situations. Strong networks, combined with temporary and negotiated hierarchies to get work done, become the simple building blocks for an organization in a state of perpetual beta.

As with management in perpetual beta, leadership can be examined from the perspective of the media tetrad. Looking at leadership in an age of pervasive networks, creativity and design are extended while command and control mechanisms like the executive suite are made obsolete. The art of storytelling as a leadership skill is retrieved from the past. But this form of leadership, when pushed too far, can reverse into cultural purges that attack anyone in disagreement with the cult of the new.

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Einstein’s wonderful counsel that no problem is ever solved by the same thinking that created it defines what we must do.  We must understand the behavior of networks in this densely interconnected world.  We must understand human motivation and our astonishing capacity to self-organize when we care about something.  We must understand that we lose capacity and in fact create more chaos when we insist on hierarchy, roles, and command and control leadership. – Margaret Wheatley: The Real World

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