INsight/ More Leadership Power

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Manila, 28 March 2018 — As windturbines outnumber the classical windmills in the Dutch landscape, a new paradigm is set to empower more leaders than ever before.

Side by side, they stand and work. New windmills constructed in the Netherlands now outnumber the traditional ones by by two to one, or by about 2400 to 1206 in number.

While everyone still respects the historical and picturesque windmills, it is the new generation that is changing renewable energy generation in the country. Windpower increased by a massive 30% in 2017, only slightly behind the increase in solar power of 40% over the same period.

While the jury may be out on the looks of the old versus the new style, there is no doubt about the bottom line results.

Leadership: The Old Paradigm

An equally monumental paradigm shift is taking place in leadership. Until recently, the prevailing way to think about leaders and leadership was as a 'tripod' of leaders, followers, and their shared goals.

The Center of Creative Leadership (CCL), an independent think tank, points out that most of the conventional leadership theories can be summed up in the three terms of this tripod: leaders, followers, and goals.

Times are changing fast, however, and so are the leadership paradigms we see around us.

As WIlfred Drath and his colleagues at CCL point out "We believe that as the contexts calling for leadership become increasingly peer-like and collaborative, the tripod's ontology of leaders and followers will increasingly impose unnecessary limitations on leadership theory and practice."

In their 2008 article Direction, Alignment, Commitment: Toward a new ontology of leadership, they proposed to replace the old paradigm by these three leadership outcomes. 

Leadership: The New Paradigm

Concretizing their initiative in 2014, Cynthia McCauley explained in the white paper Making Leadership Happen how CCL wants to position the Direction-Alignment-Commitment (DAC) model as a whole-system approach to leadership, involving multiple people and multiple processes. Three points stand out:

First, in their profound change to how leadership is perceived, as a process of influence, the outcome of Direction is about an "agreement on what the collective is trying to achieve."

Second, the leadership outcome of Alignment is defined as  "effective coordination and integration of the different aspects of the work so that it fits together in service of the shared direction."

Third, CCL refers to the outcome of Commitment as "people who are making the success of the collective (not just their individual success) a personal priority."

Gone is the distinction between leaders (who in the popular perception were limited to executives in positions of authority up there) and followers (the rest of humanity). And yet, the new definition and stated outcomes of leadership are inclusive. Everyone can contribute, including the executives.

Over the past decade or so, the distinction between leaders and managers, and leadership and management, has also come to the fore. More and more people now recognize that these are not the same concepts, and that good managers are not automatically good leaders, and vice versa.

A Process of Influence

Most of the emerging leaders I work with find it easy to buy into the new definition of leadership as a process of influence, and they feel at home with thinking about working collectively for positive change.

On the other hand, many executives and managers still struggle to come to terms with the changing landscape of leadership. The best ones realize that what brought them success yesterday will, in most instance, not be enough for their businesses to survive and thrive tomorrow.

A few weeks ago, the CEO of a large Philippine company told me how he chose to get mentored by a Millennial staff on working with IT. Reverse mentoring, he called it. Initiatives like these will send a strong signal to company staff that leadership requires everyone's contribution.

I also observed how emerging leaders can still be lured by the old paradigm of becoming a leader with followers, particularly if their work environment has one of the following conditions: strong hierarchy, quick decision-making, adherence to tradition, or a culture driven by competition.  

When, however, emerging leaders embrace the old paradigm of becoming a leader with followers in a work environment where the focus is on consensus-building, collaboration, or innovation, there is bound to be unproductive tension until more space is created for collective leadership. 

Your Definition of Leadership

Who, according to you, can be leaders nowadays? And what does leadership mean to you? How will you define leadership in your own words? 

How you tackle these questions will determine how much difference you allow yourself to make in our world that needs more leaders. I recommend you take a look at Cynthia McCauley's white paper as you set out to answer these questions for yourself.