Smarter Companies Have Many Leaders

by Jay Deragon on 08/29/2013

change blvdThe #1 constraint to organizational progress in the 21st century is the lack of many leaders. Having one leader is certain death for any organization trying to compete against other organizations with many leaders.  If you can’t comprehend the difference you are a walking zombie looking for a grave.

If your mental model of business are stuck in the 20th century frame of mind you might be thinking: 1) how can an organization have more than one leader? 2) If there is more than one leader who follows whom? 3) If there is more than one leaders who sets the organizations’ direction? 4) If there is more than one leader who is ultimately responsible for the organizations performance?…and the questions would continue to flow against the thought of an organization being led by many rather than one leader.

While we have made progress in knowledge and understanding we have failed miserably in the application of wisdom. Technology has accelerated information which transformed into new knowledge but much of the application of knowledge seems stuck in old structures, primarily old organizational structures.

Shifting the Load of Leadership to Many vs. the Few

Gary Hamel writes in a post titled “Syndicating the Work of Leadership” We live in a world where never before has leadership been so necessary but where so often leaders seem to come up short. Our sense is that this is not really a problem of individuals; this is a problem of organizational structures—those traditional pyramidal structures that demand too much of too few and not enough of everyone else.

So here we are in a world of amazing complexity and complex organizations that just require too much from those few people up top. They don’t have the intellectual diversity, the bandwidth, the time to really make all these critical decisions. There’s a reason that, so often in organizations, change is belated, it is infrequent, it is convulsive.

Because, typically, in those traditional structures, by the time a small team at the top realizes there’s a need for fundamental change, by the time a problem is big enough or an opportunity clear enough that it prompts action, that it breaks through all the levels, commands the attention of these extraordinarily busy people up top—it’s too late. So if we want to build truly adaptable organizations, we have to syndicate the work of leadership more broadly.

The entire model of organizational structures and later leaders came from military models of yesterday. Top down, command and control, Generals, lieutenants and so forth were designed to control the movement of people and machines to fight wars against enemies. In the 21st century we are fighting a different kind of war. A war for creativity, value creation, innovation and market engagement that are won on the front lines with leaders who put people first and who care about providing a first class experience. That is why we need more than one leader.

So you might ask “Who sets the rules?”.   If you had to ask that question it means you simply don’t understand what the new rules are.


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