It’s leadership, but not as we know it

The World Technology NetworkLast night I went to a truly mind blowing talk, ‘Manifesto for a New Civilization’, with James P. Clark, Founder/Chairman of The World Technology Network. I fully recommend watching the full presentation which is available here.

One of the many, many things his presentation got me thinking about is where does leadership come from within an organisation? How is this changing? What do we need to be considering as individuals, colleagues, business leaders and employees of the approaching future?

There is no doubt that we are living in a time of unprecedented and accelerated change due to digital technologies. James’ presentation attests to the notion that we’ve had more change in the past 20-30 years than we did in the previous 2,000-3,000 years of human history.

And this has vast implications for corporate organisations as we know them today. In an era of rapid acceleration, knowledge becomes a hindrance as you have more to unlearn; experience starts to work against you when the future landscape is so significantly different to the past. In this environment the traditional rewards and hierarchs of companies start to become irrelevant. Seniority and pay based on time served or wisdom accrued becomes redundant, rather ideas, collaboration, and sustainability become the new corporate currency.

The democratisation of publishing tools is driving this organisational transformation. The tools of change are now in all of our hands, not just those at the top of the company pyramid. Some organisations are already adjusting to this shift through the introduction of enterprise social networking and digital collaboration platforms. These platforms are accelerating the spread of the democratisation of new ideas and innovation within businesses; the means to create change is no longer for the chosen few but for the collective minds of many.

And this leads me back to my original question, in this future landscape, where does leadership come from within an organisation? One comment which really struck me during James’ talk was about the Arab Spring. Can you name a leader? Revolutions of the past had a central figurehead, a driving force of change – think Fidel Castro, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King – but we’re now moving into a era of leaderless revolutions. Could we also be moving into an era of leaderless organisations – or at least leadership as we currently understand it?

The significance of this is profound, but it doesn’t take too much of an imaginative leap to get there. People follow people and in an organisational structure where everyone’s voice carries the same weight thanks to digital technologies, where our traditional notions of knowledge work against us, and hierarchs become irrelevant, who and where will you be choosing to put your trust? In the old system of pyramids based on outdated wisdom, or in the collective intelligence of your peers?

Those organisations who survive this change will be those who have restructured themselves around flexibility and resilience, and embraced sustainability and the democratisation of information. And that goes for us as individuals too, are you ready?

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