Companies have complex structures where power is distributed. Engaging employees (which we know is important for results) requires that people understand and buy into decisions. Work is increasingly done through short-term project teams and not through static organizational hierarchies.
Recently I spoke with my friend Julie Williamson, chief growth enabler for Karrikins Group, and we considered how to make sense of leadership in this context. Like me, Julie studies organizations to understand why things happen the way they do and how we can do it better. We identified three questions today’s leaders should ask themselves to increase their impact.
1. Are you influential?
Your positional power is no longer enough to be successful. Hierarchical teams with a positional leader are less prevalent than they were before. Virtual, matrix and temporary teams without a positional leader have become much more common and are, in fact, the way lots of important work gets done.
We see three main reasons for this.
The tempo of work and the pace of change is faster than it’s ever been. The world is increasingly connected and interdependent. Technology has made available massive amounts of data to inform decisions. It’s no longer possible for one person to have the knowledge or capacity to make all the decisions and coordinate all the pieces.
Today’s workers seek more integration of career and life, and the linear career path has transformed into a multidirectional lattice (see this great article from Deloitte University Press to learn more about this trend). This means organizations have highly experienced and wise leaders at many levels within the organization, not just at the top.
Organizations are experimenting — and succeeding — with self-governing teams. In 2015, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh sent his employees a memo defining a new leadership paradigm for Zappos where “[r]oles are picked up, discarded, and exchanged fluidly. Power is distributed. Decisions are made at the point of origin.” While companies like Zappos and WL Gore are some of the best-known organizations embracing distributed leadership, they are not the only ones.
What’s needed instead of positional leadership is the ability to think in complex, strategic and interdependent ways and to bring people along on that journey. One strategy for this is to get really good at collaboration. Not the disagree-and-commit kind of collaboration, but the kind where conflict is a way of thinking.
2. Can you adapt your leadership style for different situations?
Leaders who depend on positional authority and command-and-control behaviors are often unable to adapt to situations that require a different type of leadership. Today’s leader must be able to access and engage different leadership styles.
Rather than expecting dispersed members of virtual, matrix, and temporary teams to adhere to traditional leadership paradigms, leaders must be highly flexible and adjust their approaches to fit the conditions and objectives of any project. Nick Petrie of the Center for Creative Leadership conducted a study about future trends in leadership and concluded that the attributes most valuable to future leaders are adaptability, self-awareness, boundary spanning, collaboration and network thinking.
These are very different than the leadership competencies we were talking about five to 10 years ago. Leaders may still be called upon to manage tasks and make decisions, but those skills are different than the agility that’s required of leaders now. One simple strategy to build your leadership agility is this: At the end of the day, ask yourself where you could have led better and why. And, tomorrow, try it differently.
3. Do you know when to follow?
Professor of Finance John S. McCallum defined followership as the ability to take direction well, to get in line behind a program, to be part of a team, and to deliver what is expected. We spend tremendous money, energy and rhetoric on leadership, which signals to people that leading is better than following. But in an environment where no one and everyone is the leader, and an environment where people move in and out of leadership roles, the ability to follow others is increasingly important.
A good leader can see when someone else is leading in a positive direction and make a choice to follow effectively, without taking over. A compelling example of this is the shirtless dancing guy interpreted by entrepreneur Derek Sivers, who emphasizes that being the first follower is an underappreciated leadership role. It requires humility and it requires confidence in others. When positional leadership is less relevant, followership becomes increasingly important, because without followers, there are no leaders.
Positional leadership is still valid and useful in certain environments, but in hyperconnected, complex, interdependent, transparent and collective environments, positional leadership is no longer enough. Today’s effective leaders will operate in ambiguity, make sense out of nonsense, and apply different leadership styles quickly and comfortably. They will move fluidly between leading and following as objectives shift, projects emerge, and teams form and dissolve. Our environment requires a new paradigm for leadership because it no longer comes with the position.
Check out the original article here: