Exercising Leadership

In the last twenty years there are new perspectives on both structure and process.

Remember all those wonderful software programs in the eighties that allowed one to design org charts. You don’t see as many of them these days, but the charts that they developed still hang around in our consciousness. It might be better to put the leader in the centre rather than at the top. I actually saw a chart like this as a model for an Arts Company in the nineties. A the centre was a split circle with the music director and general manager. Surrounding them in concentic circles were the core musiciams, the extras, the technical crews, the marketers – all with key tasks but with different roles and responsibilities. Arts projects are like that – highly specialized configurations of talent and skills brought together in appropriate roles and time trames with a focus on the creation. We are a long way from that in other worlds but the possibility is there.

Titles matter less, responsibilities more. Self-management is key. The suggestion is that it may matter more to manage up and across than down. Direct reports can come last if the others are management tasks are working well.So much depends on the people – the right people in the right seats.

Helping people to face reality may be the real task of leadership. And so often it means asking the right questions rather than having the right answers. In that regard, the reminder that “What you see is all there is” also comes to mind. So we have to have good research and honest advice. Both require hard work both in acquiring and receiving them

 

A changing world view

Modern science has changed how we view the world though most of us who are not scientists don’t think about it. But we do hear words like systems, and when we reflect on complex issues, we recognize that there is more than meets the eye – a fact that writer, Daniel Kahneman, in his wonderful book, Thinking Fast and Slow, playing on the maxim “What your see is what you get”, identifies it as WYSIATI – “What you see is all there is”. There is a focus on wholeness and systems, rather than on parts.

The metaphor used to be the machine. Now the model for the world is the web – brought home by the fact that if you are reading this, you are part of the “www” world. And like the Web itself, the world is being constantly built, altered and transformed by collective and widely distributed expertise. Just this morning alone my e-mail delivers an Idea Connection newsletter from the US and a knowledge management one from the UK. The environment is becoming more and more the focus than the economy or society. If there are links, the common element in all three is the emotional impact of all of these.

We are starting to organize around networks rather than hierarchicl pyramids – though the hierarchies are usually the last to notice or accept this. The focus of the organization starts to be interaction and relationships rather than the hierarchies themselves. So the chief task of the leader becomes communicating, translating the views of others and developing a unified and positive organizational identity. We are also starting to move away from being victims and taking responsibility for making things happen.