The past 20 months have witnessed a global crisis in leadership. We will not distribute vaccines to poor countries because we are letting the market lead our pandemic responses. Public health officials have held on to droplet dogmatism in spite overwhelming evidence that the SARS-CoV-2 virus is airborne. Schools have been kept open while many children have not been able to get vaccinated. This pandemic has become a crisis in network leadership.
One design problem of almost all organizations and institutions is the inability to quickly change who is in charge. In dealing with complex challenges the best organizational form, according to Verna Allee, is loose hierarchies and strong networks. I also advocate for ways to enable temporary negotiated hierarchies for working and learning in the complex domain.
After five decades of observing leadership in its various forms [I took my first leadership course in Army Cadets when I was 13], I have come up with three principles of leadership in a connected world, all based on the foundation that leadership is not a position but rather self-discipline.
- There is only one way to lead — by example.
- Leadership is helping make the network smarter, more resilient, and able to make better decisions.
- Cooperation is the optimal behaviour in a networked world, and this requires what have traditionally been viewed as feminine leadership attributes.
Simon Wardley is even more specific about attracting female leadership talent,
“Find women in your organisation who’ve been building guilds (i.e. World of Warcraft / EVE online) and fast track them to executive positions. Representation and diversity are far more important than many imagine in this new world. You need to quickly move towards a more inclusive environment and that means overturning past privilege.” —battling elves & building civilisations
One person cannot lead in a connected world. If they try, they become the knowledge bottleneck. Making our networks smarter is one aspect of leadership in our digitally connected world and so is convening the best parts of our networks in order to address complex issues and make decisions. In crises, sometimes perfection is the enemy of the good, so having a diverse, knowledgeable, and experienced group of advisors becomes critical.
Leadership today should be a temporary privilege and a permanent responsibility.