We have a problem with leadership in business today.
And that problem is that we are doing it all wrong. We are using the wrong model for today’s quickly changing and networked world. We are in a historical place in the evolution of American business. We are transforming from an industrialized based economy to a knowledge economy. And it doesn’t matter what kind of business you are in, manufacturing, service, big, small or medium, you are being impacted because in today’s workforce knowledge is king.
That is both the good news and the not so good news. The good news is that each of us has an opportunity to position ourselves and our companies to be very productive and profitable in the new era that is emerging. The bad news is that there aren’t many existing models of how to build an organization or how to lead people and organizations in the new Knowledge Age. But they are beginning to appear.
So let's talk about what is happening and what we must do to adapt ourselves to the changing conditions that are around us. What is the problem with leadership today?
Two of the most significant changes coming with the emergence of the knowledge economy are The removal of the Org Chart as the primary design method for organizations and the elimination of traditional top-down, command and control leadership models.
The reason they are fading away is that they were both created for, and by, people struggling to solve the problems that emerged as the industrial revolution forced them to rethink their agricultural age production methods. But we are now morphing into a Knowledge-based economy where accessing and activating mind-power is replacing managing manpower as the most important role of management.
This is so because in today’s knowledge economy where intellect, innovation, collaboration and the management of the knowledge capital of our organizations is now more important than managing its financial capital.
Financial capital is still very important but it is now in second place to the importance of having deep reserves and open access to the knowledge capital you need.
So one of the first things to realize is that Org Charts sees the world in falsely linear terms that only exist in industrialized and mechanized thinking. But the world is not an industrialized mechanized thing. Rather it is a series of complex networks interacting and impacting one another in fluid environments. Which is exactly how people interact with one another in organizations. They form a series of knowledge networks.
Now you may be wondering what constitutes a “knowledge network”. And the answer can be as simple as any group of people who are interacting with one another to accomplish a common goal; either great or small.
Any time two or more people are working together there is a knowledge network in play. The only question is to what degree is it able to be activated and how much is it allowed to “live, breathe and produce”?
The answer to that question begins by looking at how much that network is forced to operate in the constricted, overly processed and controlled environment that exists in traditionally designed and managed organizations.
If leadership can loosen the bounds of the org chart and can allow for more of a “flat” and collaborative management style then the network will provide greater results. Those results then yield efficiencies that will lessen the amount of manpower required to generate profits. So the ROI is real and quick.
But to do this requires current management to trust, encourage, empower and include the members of the knowledge network (aka employees) so that they can contribute their unique abilities and perspectives into the network such that the intellectual raw material can be refined into a finished product.
While not always an easy task there are many things that you can do to help you to accomplish that goal.
First of all, you have to be willing to see everyone in your organization as someone who has value, brains and unique perspectives. Next, you must assess the areas in which they can contribute, and don’t just decide this on your own. Ask them for their input. Include them in some of the problem solving or brain-storming sessions you are having.
Now, not every idea they have will be applicable and not everyone should be in every discussion. You still need to use well-placed discretion to make these determinations but open up the process a bit. You may be surprised what you will find and how much you get in return.
You see, as you respect them more, they will respect you more. This will then open and activate the network even more because some of the key components that keep a knowledge network open and productive is respect, trust, and safety.
Creating those conditions create fertile breeding grounds for knowledge networks to flourish and for you to reap the benefits.
The next step is to back off of the typical command and control method of management and replace it with a culture that values and rewards collaboration and embraces a distributed responsibility model. Command and control leadership is another tool of the industrialized, manpower centric, era that will fail you in today’s knowledge economy because it inherently values power over intellect.
And in a knowledge economy you must value intellect and innovation over power otherwise you will fail.
Once again, this is not easy to do but the first step in making the shift from command and control to a collaborative is to begin by looking at yourself.
Are you willing to give up power for performance? Are you willing to give up control for creativity? Are you willing AND able to see, encourage and respect the creative capabilities and collective genius that exists within your group and mobilize it to everyone's advantage? Are you willing to trust and value mind-power over manpower. If you are that is an excellent first step. If you aren’t well then good luck.
While this is a very complex subject there is a place that you can start that will help you get into the right frame of mind, or the right “consciousness”, short of actually attending next generation leadership training, that will allow you to get on the right track. You can do what I call “Leading with AIR”.
AIR is an acronym for Authenticity, Integrity, and Respect. When all else fails, or if you are wondering the best course of action to take the first thing to do is to stop and ask yourself this question: “What would I have to do in order to engage these people, or address this situation, with Authenticity, Integrity, and Respect?”
Whatever you come up with, as long as you are being honest with yourself, will result in your acting with honorable intentions. And it is very difficult to do much damage when you engage people with Authenticity, Integrity, and Respect.
Deciding to operate using this new model designed for the Knowledge Economy is very productive and profitable for EVERYONE involved. Besides it also gets more oars in the water pulling for you so it saves you energy, time and stress.
And if you need any more reasons other than that to consider a shift in how you manage then I just don’t know what to say other than...well “good luck” because the winds of change are already upon us and we either glide on the current or get blown around like a tumbleweed.