Our societies have grown from a collection of tribes, added institutions, and later developed markets. These aligned with revolutions in communications: from oral, to written, to print. The network era began with the advent of electric communications, though it is by no means completely established.
Each type of societal structure has required different types of leadership. Alexander the Great was probably one of the best tribal leaders. He led his armies from the front and created an enormous empire. After his death, some of his generals created long-lasting institutions not based on military tactics. Ptolemy’s library at Alexandria is one example. Later, institutions like the Catholic Church dominated more through soft institutional power, rather than wielding swords. Others did that for them when necessary. As a market society developed, new types of economic and financial power were exercised by the Fuggers and the Hanseatic League in Europe. Later, captains of industry in America, such as Andrew Carnegie, would dominate in their markets, often circumventing existing institutional power.
As we enter the network era we see companies like Apple dominating, often ignoring Wall Street pundits. With network effects, Google can control the online advertising market, making market competition almost irrelevant. Power shifts as a society’s organizing principles change. In almost all organizations today, positional power is alive and well. For some managers, this is all the power they have, and they are at the mercy of the organizational hierarchy. If they lose their position, they lose their power. More effective leaders influence people through their social leadership abilities. This is what most modern leadership training programs focus on developing. In the network era, effective leaders also have to build their reputational power through connected leadership.
Social and connected leadership can build on each other. One major change as we enter the network era is that positional power (based on institutions and hierarchies) may no longer be required to have influence in a network society. This may change how we think about leadership. This new connected leadership is the combination of social and networked influence. It does not require positional power. This type of leadership is something we all can use. We can use our reputation, as seekers and sense-makers, to share knowledge that has a reputation for veracity.
“What a mature citizen of the digital age should be competent at is not spotting and confirming the veracity of the news. Rather, she should be competent at reconstructing the reputational path of the piece of information in question, evaluating the intentions of those who circulated it, and figuring out the agendas of those authorities that leant it credibility.” —Say Goodbye To The Information Age: It’s All About Reputation Now
This is the core of personal knowledge mastery. We need to be able to evaluate information and knowledge and then use it to make decisions. The breadth and depth of our knowledge networks becomes our social safety net. But the nodes (people) in these networks have to be dependable. Their reputation within the network signals their competence. Our networks not only provide us with information but indicate to others how good we are. Personal knowledge mastery is our part of this new social contract in the reputation age.
With one-click self-publishing we can easily show our knowledge, and this transparency can be scary. Positional hierarchies in organizations start to crumble. Cooperation becomes the dominant way of interacting, not competition. But the dark side is that we may become immersed in a sea of global orthodoxy where nobody dare try to rock the boat of the new networked norm.