The leadership model is broken.
Readers know I’ve questioned the continued emphasis on the role of the leader. Indeed, I view collaboration, communication and thinking as much more important skills than leadership as the nature of work has changed and the parts we play have evolved as well.
Just as the agricultural era gave way to the industrial revolution and ultimately the information age, the roles we’re familiar with are changing as well. The workplace has shifted and will continue to do so.
Yet we continue to beat the leadership drum as if it were the holy grail.
In a word the reason we do this is because we’re lazy. Intellectually lazy to be more precise. Many of us, graduates of the public education system in the US, are thus lacking in one of the three cornerstones mentioned early on: we don’t know how to think.
A dispassionate survey of the modern work place would easily show we’re much more prone to lemming like behavior than original thinking. Yet it is deep thinking leads to innovation and innovation that will sustain western economies. Charismatic leaders who offshore their businesses will not.
Our affection for leadership as the sine qua non of organization success also reflects a fondness for a little bit of magic. Since leadership by definition is somewhat amorphous it allows many different versions and interpretations to be thrust upon us. I.e., we can write almost any nonsense we want, call it courageous leadership, and sell it.
But workers around the world have caught on and realized this fascination is misplaced by half.
So how do we move on to what’s next?
The solution is to break out of our routine and reflect critically on the changing nature of work itself and what it requires. Fortunately people – those resources we so frequently overlook – are doing a bit of this for us.
Digital natives entering college and the workforce today are predisposed to collaboration: its in their standard suite of behaviors. Where I continue to focus on hierarchical models and Machiavellian leadership intrigue, my younger counterparts are open source by nature realizing it is a cleaner more effective way to get to what’s next.
Collaboration, so natural to them, is a habitual practice some of us – the writer included – need to learn.
Communication, ie., information + emotion, is a skill many of us lack. Especially in a distributed environment where we may work with those we never seen in person, managing the emotional half of the communication equation is very difficult. We need to really understand what communication is in the digital age and how we may excel in same. The written word alone can’t solve for this answer.
And finally, thinking, critically, remains as important as it ever was and its time to acknowledge this, teach it and celebrate it instead of damping it down as if it were the Mockingjay symbol in the Hunger Games. Stop being afraid of critical thinking: by nature it is different, by nature it is questioning, by nature it is discomfiting. How would we ever uncover new understandings if we relied only on what is acceptable and non-threatening?
The workplace of today and tomorrow relies much less on individual leadership skill than it does on the group contribution skills of thinking, collaborating and communicating. Our focus in research, writing and applied practice needs to reflect this shift.
Adios leadership intrigue.