In the the last decade, internet has flattened the world : it’s no more a medium and tool limited to the elite; It’s all-pervasive. Possibly, Obama campaign in 2008 was the most noticeable landmark in the history of humankind where he could reach millions of people easily, caught their imagination, involved them in the run-up to the election to dream of a better future for their lives. And afterwards, there have been a few such landmark events which unleashed the power of internet to lead people’s hearts and minds: the Anna Hazare campaign, Narendra Modi’s campaign and so on…Such campaigns have proved us that the leader of the modern times needs to involve the people en masse and coordinate amongst many peers. Uber, Airbnb etc are examples where they have been able to involve loads of users and leverage on the power of peers (drivers in the case of Uber and hosts in case of Airbnb).
There are some lessons for leaders and managers here as they lead people in current times. I think, the first lesson of this new order is to co-create rather than instruct and advise. Typically, our seniors and gurus taught us that a leader has to form strategies, convert them into plans, define goals, organize resources for execution, communicate the nuts and bolts, make decisions along the way, direct teams and control the execution. The manager is accountable for everything and the people in the team have to mostly follow the directions. However, the current times offer new avenues to collaborate; many organizations are empowering the people to take part in deciding all that a leader is accountable for. If someone remains loyal to the old school and follows the traditional methods, the workplace is not very engaging, attractive and inspiring. In our times, leadership is no more limited to the boss, it is shared by many in the team; team is not driven by the boss rather driven by peer-level members of the team depending upon the context; the boss doesn’t download information rather there is a lot of download and upload of information at the same time. The transformation needed for the manager of our times is to tap into the power of creativity, imagination and collaboration of all stakeholders. This is easier said than done because this is not something that we learnt and practised in schools and early part of our professional career. It calls for a lot of conscious action to communicate, engage and empower using several tools and media.
Secondly, we see noise and chaos in a system when there is a crowd and a lot of traffic. When a team generates a lot of opinions and information, it is inevitable that they need to be processed for decision-making. The accountability of taking the decision stays with the leader and hence, the accountability of the outcomes is not diluted. So, the leader now has to be able to deal with an increase in traffic, make meaning of all that bubbles up, keep the team away from distractions, report the summary transparently, allow some parts of governance to happen in a networked manner, increase participation, act with a lot of speed, allow a lot of do-it-yourself work. Again, this is not very easy because it doesn’t come very naturally to a person to let go of the authority and power to call the shots; overcome the tendency to hear the good news and so on. The leader has to be able to listen to the good as well as the unfavorable stories, constructively engage all the folks in the ecosystem, deploy the required intellectual bandwidth to interpret the stories and let the governance happen in a networked manner yet not disowning the outcomes. It’s a lot of excitement!
Our current times are interesting and exciting because of the changes in technology and socio-economics. Leaders must adapt!