Most leadership models are built on the management techniques of the latter half of the 20th century. If we are being benevolent, that statement might be true, but there still are managers and systems that harken back to overlording pre-Industrial Revolution techniques.
Today, the leadership industry hears and sees a subtler, quieter and more disruptive revolution happening. It is borne on the wings of social media and its prophets are the youngest among us. It may just re-invent our entire concept of leading and what we, as leadership coaches, assist our clients in doing.
Leadership involves a multitude of disciplines and practice areas. Not merely a set of goal-oriented behaviors as it was once classified, but leadership also encompasses a set of processes and relationships between the leader and follower(s). It is here that the naissance of this new revolution can be seen.
Managers have generally tended to view employees as individuals and working groups or perhaps teams of individuals. It was as if the individual employee–occupying a defined space and time–were all that mattered. But increasingly, that individual has become much more. If leading is to remain the dynamic of leveraging talent, information and resources against a set of problems, processes and products, then shifting our understanding of the “individual” is imperative.
Let’s examine the changes in two parts: what the new world looks like and what implications it poses for leaders.
Web 2.0, wikispaces, social and professional networks, microblogs, RSS and advanced search engines (the list is growing daily) have reshaped how information is shared. In the workplace, information sharing used to belong in the realm of management. It was often seen as the source of their strength and power. There was a time when managers were seen as the best at their craft in the room–hired for their expertise and promoted into leadership for excellence and achievement.
That is no longer the case.
A very good example of this phenomenon can be seen in the world of academia. Until recently, the professor was unquestionably the most knowledgeable one in the room. But now every student has a laptop open to one of several search tools to question, challenge and push the level of informed discussion to heights that are hard to imagine and even more difficult to describe. Why, then, should the workplace be any different?
What these new employees represent is no longer an individual entity, but rather an entire system–sometimes distinct from but often comprised of and accessed through the thinking and collaboration of their fellow members. Recognizing employees as windows into these vast networks of people and information sources, allows leaders to leverage far more than ever.
Yet the bulk of coaching and leadership models continue to treat employees as singular units or as members of the internal teams within the confines of the corporate entity. Leaders and leadership models must not only recognize the different dynamic of our new employees, but must learn how to tap into the power and capacity they represent.