Good leaders enlist empowerment and personal commitment to drive results
In today's "flat" organizations, leadership is no longer synonymous with authority. While authority carries with it the ability to delegate, finalize decisions and ultimately reap reward or consequences, leadership involves engaging people and activating emotional commitment to a shared vision. Authority cannot instill the conviction or passionate commitment that leadership inspires, because it appeals to the mind and to rational behavior, rather than the powerful existential forces at the heart of motivation. The best business leaders appreciate this, and take a light-handed approach when yielding their formal powers. They model behaviors that strengthen trust and accountability, and leverage informal networks and pathways to harness cross-organization energy and affect positive change
To lead effectively in the Information Age, you don't have to have the answers, but you must have the capacity to work with others to find them. Good leaders empower others by encouraging them to see the talents and resources they bring to the table. If they are seen as authentic and instill a genuine sense of trust, they can enlist personal empowerment and commitment to drive transformative change. To do this leaders must emphasize the four pillars of integrity, accountability, learning and communication.
To be effective, leadership must be rooted in strong ethical behavior. It should emphasize inclusiveness and create a true sense that everyone shares in the process regardless of status or title. Leadership should also be elevational, instilling the sense that participants are better for having been involved. Integrity is undermined when managers and others with formal authority:
- Abuse their authority, making others feel powerless or defensive
- Hoard privileges, or fail to offer others a share in rewards stemming from collective achievements
- Practice deceit, or seek to maintain knowledge asymmetries by withholding information from others.
- Act inconsistently, arbitrarily or unfairly, or in a manner contradictory to the group's core values
- Fail to be accountable for their actions, or hold others to a higher standard
At its core, leadership is about taking ownership or responsibility, not only for our own behavior, but for the situation and the actions or inactions of those for whom we are responsible. Effective leaders not only accept accountability, but instill it in others. They create a sense of shared ownership that makes others invested in finding a solution, and motivates them to follow through and seek closure. Good leaders prevent others from avoiding responsibility, and help them manage stress, anxiety and uncertainty by providing support to help them overcome the panic and stumbling blocks that characterize the early stages of any new endeavor.
Effective leadership de-emphasizes traditional command-and-control functions. It relies less on the knowledge and experience of individual leaders, and more on the collective intelligence of the network. It recognizes that in order to arrive at the optimal solution, problem-solving must be informed by a thorough understanding of the situation and the options available, and seeks to foster a culture of learning by empowering participants to explore creative solutions to the individual and collective challenges they face.
In order to foster a culture of learning, leadership needs to encourage conversations and develop an infrastructure for sharing information and ideas. Besides ensuring the availability of a positive venue and providing some basic ground rules, leaders must be active listeners to the conversation and help individuals and teams work together more effectively. If conflicts arise, they should deflect participants' attention away from the personal to the matter at hand.
Beyond fostering civility and collaboration, leaders should play a constructive role in the discussions to ensure that no one person – including themselves – dominates the conversation. Leaders need to exhibit humility and be open to questioning and critique so that everyone feels empowered to contribute. They should be sure to a lot enough time to allow defining issues and insights from the front lines surface, and respect that hurrying towards a solution will inevitably constrain the conversation and sacrifice contributions that might help illuminate the way forward.
A Balanced Approach
While the Information Age necessitates "shared", "distributed", or "collaborative" approaches to leadership, and emphasizes the contributions of the network above the exceptionality of the individual, strong centralized leadership is still critical. Formal authority is needed to structure the collaborative frameworks that form the basis of shared leadership. It is also required to ensure that key decisions are aligned with organizational goals, and in instances where time constraints render consensus-based decision-making impractical. Nevertheless, leadership can no longer lean on authority as the primary driver of results. To be competitive, organizations need to encourage authentic leadership and strike a new balance between formal authority and the relationship building and behavior modeling that mobilizes organizations and drives transformative change.