This is the first in a series of posts which articulate fundamental shifts in leadership paradigms from the 20th to the 21st century. These changes have accompanied increasing global social awareness and progress into a more digital and tech-enabled world of work. Covid-19 has dramatically tested leadership effectiveness and revealed massive inadequacies in the way that leadership functions. As we pioneer our way into the world the pandemic is leaving in its wake there has never in our lifetime has been a more important time to reframe this construct. Over the next month or so, I will highlight some of these paradigm shifts and how they inform the need for Astute 21st Century leaders need to be Articulate Influencers.
The first core change calls into question the legitimacy of LEADERSHIP itself. “Woke” thinkers have visceral negative reactions to the use of the term leader, especially as it was framed in the 20th century. That hierarchical, positional, arrogant and production-obsessed view of LEADERSHIP MUST be questioned. It justified bullying, manipulation and coercion. It viewed people as resources and blatantly dehumanized them to the status of production machines. Leaders were the titled controllers and enforcers who initiated and perpetuated these practices. Whilst I agree that these precepts need to be rejected, I believe that LEADING is still a very important and potentially constructive social construct. People influence or affect other people, irrespective of roles or title. This premise is based on an observation I read many years ago that two people sitting independently in the same room without talking to each other will have an impact on each other. So, whilst the word ‘influence’ may have positive or negative connotations, the practice cannot be eliminated from interactions. It should rather be intentionally and constructively directed and a distinction made between influence and manipulation.
If we throw out the concepts of leading and influence, we throw the baby out with the bathwater. If every person on the planet was supremely wise and wonderful we might be able to rely on each other to function without interpersonal influence, but most would agree that
•No human is fully adult, aware, articulate or adept.
•Conflict and difference are inherent qualities of social systems that disrupt cohesion and cooperation.
•Highly impactful societal and organisational challenges create the need for optimal collaborative responses.
•Our interconnected world mandates collectiveness.
•Groups generally accomplish more than individuals.
•The majority of people have been socialized to “follow”.
•Self-organising is probably a myth and can create massive uncertainty and waste.
•We need to listen to and learn from one another to make this world a better place.
Effective leaders positively influence other people to get important things done. They do so without manipulation, abuse of power, title or position. They LEAD themselves and each other AND MANAGE tangible resources to tackle complex and wicked problems. They don’t manage people. Effective 21st Century leaders need to carry forward the best 20th Century business thinking AND enact new, more constructive 21st Century paradigms for leading and generatively influencing people.
Reflection question: As an Astute Leader, how can you lead for good?