The New World of Leadership (by Neal Woodson)

In his 1989 book, The 8th Habit, Stephen Covey exhorted leaders to find their voice and inspire others to find theirs. I think this speaks directly to the move in leadership philosophy today from centralized structures of command and demand to decentralized cross-functional arrangements where leaders step forward at the right time to share their unique talents for the good of the group and the mission.

In our new landscape, we find a drive for leaders to come from everywhere in an organization. This construction is flexible, agile and not reliant on hierarchy. While some might shudder at the thought of a lack of central command, the speed of our modern world almost seems to demand it. The days where someone at the top knows everything and holds the keys to every part of the plan are slowly ending. As our world becomes more and more connected and the need for newer and newer technological knowledge comes to the fore at an alarming rate, the new leadership configurations are increasingly becoming a requirement.

One interesting thing of note is how the lack of communication methods in history as well as the growth in communication methods today has similarly influenced leadership structures. In pre-radio era warfare for example, although there was a highly defined leadership hierarchy, when the battle ensued, each small unit of soldiers was led, sometimes very creatively and in opposition to the pre-planned strategy, based on what was happening at the time. I have heard over and over in documentaries about the Civil War for instance how things would have been different if there had been radio communication available. Orders and changes in plan could have been communicated quickly and large-scale shifts could have been made to fit what was happening at the moment. What you can see is how the lack of or slowness of communication forced people to step up and lead and make decisions to fit the moment.

Oddly, the immense numbers of communication methods available today are driving the same behavior. One would think increased communication would allow for more control, but as we can communicate more quickly, immediate decision making is what is needed more than regulation. Customers for example do not want to wait for managers, they want answers…now! This means line-level employees must step up, lead and make decisions much like the historical line-level military commander who cannot communicate with his superior.

In today’s business world, our plans and strategies are moving much like the battle lines in pre-radio era warfare; it’s just that the artillery being used is communication. Where a commander today can communicate quickly and dynamically, so can customers, with a very wide audience and at all times of day and night. Today’s business leader can no longer keep up; they must train and empower their teams to lead from moment to moment. They must communicate rapidly and in a two-way fashion so they can keep up with what’s happening and what’s changing. Like it or not, decentralized leadership is a must if for no other reason than keeping up.

We’ve seen movements like the Arab Spring and Barack Obama’s election campaign built on decentralized leadership structures using communication tools to make it happen. What are you doing in your business to adapt? How are you using all of the tools of today to move your strategy but to also adjust to the changing landscape and the changing weather of customer thinking? How are you keeping up? How can learning to use communication tools help you find your voice while inspiring others to find theirs? Covey saw it all like a prophet and now we must adapt, adjust and use the tools to serve our customers and our teams alike if we want to vibrantly move forward in the new world of business leadership.

Neal Woodson is a teacher, coach, and speaker committed to driving the conversation on making work and business a better place. He calls the movement Wellness for Business. Join the dialog at