We've got it wrong.
Peruse any stream on Twitter or LinkedIn, check out any business mag, attend real or virtual conferences and you'll see we're all about leadership.
We've really got a thing for it.
Every outlet offers their own twist on what it takes to become and improve as a leader. Heady stuff I'm sure but in the emerging gestalt of the 21st century, leadership is becoming as quaint – and irrelevant – as rabbit ears for a tv.
The leadership model of yesteryear is based on a simple equation: one person leads the way (through any number of techniques, thus the plethora of articles) and the rest of us assume the position in the pack that follows. If you are lucky you get a good leader. If not, well…
But does the world really function like that anymore?
If we think about the work we do, our social, civic and religious ties, the professional organizations we belong to, even the stores we shop in, we can see leadership has given way to collaboration. Following the anointed or assumed leader doesn't work in an age where most of us have access to more information than ever before. The fundamental role of leadership – to provide direction and guidance – has become less and less necessary as we receive stimuli from so many other sources not the least of which are the people we're engaged with.
Information, capital and technology flow freely across the boundaries of time and space and leaders are not required to help us form consensus.
Yes, I know many places still use bosses but there used to be a lot of buggy whip manufacturers too. Even the good ones went away eventually.
Leadership as a concept fundamentally requires both a stronger and weaker will as some are ultimately bent to follow others. Its an easy model in that the followers are “off the hook” in many ways. But the adult world doesn't work like that.
Today work requires collaboration on both formal and informal basis as people exchange information, direction, learning and once projects are complete move on to new ad hoc teams with new agendas. We are long past commmand and control environments as employees, customers and communities require transparency in commerce and transparency obviates traditional leadership.
A friend of mine likes to say life happens. He's referring to is the spaghetti-like mess of intertwining needs, desires and demands that fill a day with every successive day forming a life. Leadership can be like that, just happening.
Going forward though the art of collaboration – examining group needs, inviting participation, learning on the fly – will become more and more necessary. As with most cultural shifts the transformation is sometimes imperceptible but inexorable just the same.
If you want to prepare yourself for a succesful career in the years to come ditch the leadership train and climb aboard the colaboration model. Its where we're going next, and where we're going now.