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Leadership Q&A: What Kind of Leadership Is Needed for Tomorrow?

Umair Haque in his always provocative style asks an important question.Minerva - 2503302221_d97534bbda

I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership lately. Specifically: why, today, when a wave of crises is sweeping the globe, does leadership seem to be almost totally absent?

The answer I’ve come to is, ironically enough, leadership itself. I’d like to advance a hypothesis: 20th century leadership is what’s stopping 21st century prosperity.

Is leadership, as we understand it, broken?

What is wrong with leadership today?

More importantly, what kind of leadership do we need in the future.

Haque sets up a contrast between a leaders and builders.

What leaders “lead” are yesterday’s organizations. But yesterday’s organizations — from carmakers, to investment banks, to the healthcare system, to the energy industry, to the Senate itself — are broken. Today’s biggest human challenge isn’t leading broken organizations slightly better. It’s building better organizations in the first place. It isn’t about leadership: it’s about “buildership”, or what I often refer to as Constructivism.

Haque’s post -The Builder’s Manifesto – critiques a form of leadership that we can call managership.

Managers oversee processes and procedures in organizations. For a hundred years, this has been the standard way we have understood what leadership is.  It is a role within an organizational hierarchy that functions to manage the work of the organization. This is an industrial era approach suited to factories.  Of course, there is also the entrepreneur type of leader who builds a business by creating a system that produces its success. It is the manager type leadership that Haque is criticizing.

Haque is issuing a call for leaders to become builders and create new institutions. He is right in that the problem that we must address is the structural one.

How should organizations be organized for the future?

The practical problem is that most of us don’t even see the structure because it is so familiar.

We need more than new builders of institutions. We need a new kind of leadership that incorporates a different approach than industrial era managership. We need new ways of seeing what is right before us.

A hint of this new direction can be found in David Brook’s New York Times column – The Protocol Society.

In the 19th and 20th centuries we made stuff: corn and steel and trucks. Now, we make protocols: sets of instructions. A software program is a protocol for organizing information. A new drug is a protocol for organizing chemicals. Wal-Mart produces protocols for moving and marketing consumer goods. Even when you are buying a car, you are mostly paying for the knowledge embedded in its design, not the metal and glass.

Managers manage the process of making stuff.

Who “manages” the process of creating the protocols?

If this question is hard to wrap your head around, maybe it is because we are not use to thinking about how an organizational structure is created. Instead, we more comfortable with just critiquing how it functions. For most of us it is not important that we understand the theoretical basis of industrial era organizational structures. All we have to know is that it doesn’t work very well in today’s non-stuff making businesses.

Here are three keys to understanding the new world of leadership and organizational structure that is emerging.

1. Leadership is an individual responsibility to make a difference, not an organization role that one manages. Our responsibility goes with us into every social setting, organization and place we go. The question this raises is “What is my responsibility to lead?”

2. Leadership is a creative exercise that people do together. Collaboration and conversation is the structure that produces the protocols. The question this raises is “How are we to organized collaboratively?”

3. The structure of organization is created from the first two with a focus on the impact of the structure. Protocols are the organizational structures of the future. They are created and refined by the people who use them. This is what is happening in Open Source environments where the tools for personal leadership and collaboration are being developed. The big question this raises is “What kind of leadership is needed to change industrial era structures into protocol era ones? And can it be done?”

Haque’s Builder idea and Brook’s Protocol Society highlight just how important it is that we take a fresh look at how organizations are organized. It is not simply a question of mechanics, but of purpose and ultimate effect. To do this we need to stand back far enough to see our present circumstances clearly enough so that then WE, together, know how to create the organizations that we need in the future.

Photo credit: takomabibelot

About the author

Dr. Ed Brenegar I'm a leadership speaker, writer and consultant who is a mentor and catalyst for change. I assist leaders and their teams in the transitions required to succeed in today's complex organizational environment. I live in Western North Carolina. I'm involved the Boy Scouts, a charitable leadership training group called Lessons In Leadership, an ordained Presbyterian Church USA minister, and am the host of the Say Thanks Every Day social network.

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