#38 - The Future of Leadership: From Hierarchy to Collaboration and Empowerment
The traditional hierarchical model of leadership is insufficient for solving the problems we face today. A shift toward a network model can create a more inclusive and effective model of leadership.
Leadership is often thought of as a role reserved for a select few special individuals, but what if leadership could be for the many? This may seem scary at first but when it works, it can lead to better outcomes and happier people (I mean, we’d all be happier without a boss, right?)
In a traditional hierarchical model of leadership, communication flows from the top down and key decisions are made by a single leader or a small group of leaders. However, this model can become a bottleneck when it comes to solving complex problems that require diverse perspectives and capabilities or at-the-coal-face experience. Ever tried to come up with a decision by committee of the important? Exactly.
We have a hierarchy, it kinda works…
An alternative is a network model where everyone is encouraged to take a leadership role and contribute their ideas and insights. This approach is more dynamic and resilient, as it relies on the collective capabilities of the group rather than the expertise of a few individuals. (Note: “taking the lead” is not a hierarchy, anyone can take the lead and can abdicate it when they (or others) feel it’s in the best interests of the group). But how can we make the shift towards leadership for the many?
One way is to remove labels and other forms of categorisation that limit people's potential. By getting rid of these labels - job titles and hierarchical responsibilities - and focusing on diverse skill sets and perspectives, we can create teams that are more adaptable and capable of tackling complex problems.
To complement this, you should encourage a culture of continuous learning and experimentation. In a traditional hierarchical model, learning and experimentation may be discouraged as it could potentially challenge the status quo. The “not invented here” or “thats-not-the-way-we-do-things-here” syndromes that plague many organisations.
Fail small, fail fast, learn lessons
However, in a network model, continuous learning and experimentation are essential for staying agile and adapting to changing circumstances. By fostering a culture of curiosity and a willingness to try new things, we can create an environment where more people feel empowered to take the lead and contribute their ideas. Yes, there might be failures, but in a culture of experimentation and curiosity, these failures should be small, with a limited surface area for damage and, importantly, can be taken as learning points for future experimentation.
But perhaps the most challenging aspect of moving towards leadership for the many is the need to let go of power. Often, this “power” or authority has been hard won through playing the game of “career”, grinding through work, taking it on the chin, etc - all the traditional means of measuring high performance in order to attain a seat at the table.
But I worked hard for this power!
But we need to divest ourselves of traditional notions of performance and the idea that career success as something we need to attain at all costs is an end-goal in itself. This can be difficult for individuals who have played the game, have earned their stripes and are used to having control and making decisions, but it is necessary for creating a more inclusive and effective model of leadership. By sharing information, resources and the authority to make decisions, we can create an environment where everyone feels valued and has the opportunity to contribute. (If it makes people feel better, they can still sign off holidays and sick days).
What do I gain from leadership for the many?
Why should you consider moving towards leadership for the many? If nothing else, it can lead to better outcomes and happier people. When everyone feels included and valued, they are more likely to be engaged and motivated. In addition, by tapping into the collective knowledge and capabilities of the group, we can find more creative and effective solutions to problems - this could be cheaper, faster, innovative solutions that your hierarchy constrained competitors are unable to deliver. By fostering a culture of continuous learning and experimentation, we can create an environment that is more resilient and adaptable to change.
The traditional hierarchical model of leadership may not be sufficient for solving the complex problems we face today. By shifting towards a network model and empowering more people to lead, we can create a more inclusive and effective model of leadership that is better equipped to handle the challenges ahead. It may not be easy, but the benefits of leadership for the many outweigh the challenges. By empowering more people to lead, we can create a brighter future for ourselves and for the world.
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