Once upon a time, in a land called Industrial Age, the leaders of organizations resided at the top of a hierarchy, managers were in the middle, and workers were supervised.
It was the job of leaders to do the important thinking and the job of managers and supervisors to make sure it was implemented.
Because no one cared what the managers, supervisors and workers thought, many of them parked their brains at the door as they came to work.
Others only used part of their brains, limiting their focus to implementation without regard for the impact on the larger organization.
Eventually the companies became gunked up. They were not healthy places for people. and their long-term results did not reach their potential.
Because their life spans were short compared to the time span of their universe, they had never lived in a different Age, and most of them couldn’t imagine that things could or should be different. They did not see that changes were beginning to transform the fundamentals of their Industrial Age.
Over the years as new technologies emerged, many of the children began to look at their parents and instead of saying, “I want to do what my Dad or Mom does,” said, “No way!”
Having grown up in a world driven by technology and under the influence of the emerging new Age, they saw the potential for interconnection, inter-dependence, and entrepreneurship. A new era for entrepreneurs and startups began.
Unfortunately, some of the new leaders recreated organizations that drained people’s energy. However many of the companies thrived. The leaders of these companies understood the essential leadership strategies required of the emerging new Age – the Information Age.
Each evolution from Stone Age ➤ to Agricultural Age ➤ to Industrial Age has required new leadership strategies.
These are the essential leadership strategies of successful leaders in today’s emerging Information Age.
- Paint a very clear picture of where the organization is going.
Whether you are the leader of the entire organization or the leader of a team, it’s no longer possible to be physically present to manage what happens every moment. If you try to control all the details, you will drown. The ticket out is to ensure everyone is aligned around a shared vision. Then they can use their own brains to figure out the best way to work together to achieve it. The role of leadership shifts to a focus on communicating and modeling the vision.
- Provide leadership no matter what your level or role is.
No matter what your official organizational title – supervisor, manager, administrator – if you’re not leading, you’re standing still or going in circles. You must be able to think both strategically and tactically. Leadership must be emergent – allowed and supported to emerge as needed. This is reminiscent of an essential leadership skill of the Stone Age, where the one who saw an opportunity or danger, or the one with the greatest skill in relation to a particular need or opportunity, was the one who responded and organized others to respond.
- Connect vision and execution.
It used to be that strategy was the province of the top of the organization, and the bottom was responsible for execution. This disconnects leaders from the realities of the organization and separates vision and execution. Vision and execution are not sequential. Vision requires action to be clarified and refined, and execution requires reflection to be effective. The “mid-space” is the space between vision and execution. Too often it’s a vacuum. “Managing the Mid-Space” describes seven things you need to do to connect vision and execution.
- Develop leadership capacity.
One of the most important jobs of leaders is to develop other leaders. This is a business issue. Soft and hard are so inter-related that the distinction is meaningless. You must be responsible not only for business results but also for developing future leaders. Therefore, what’s important is not only delivering results but also how you accomplish them.
- Value and utilize diversity.
Effective problem solving depends on utilizing the perspectives that others bring because of their experience, orientation, gender, nationality, etc. If there is any question in your mind about this, watch this wonderful video clip of Halla Tomasdottir‘s Ted Talk on how her financial services firm used 5 traditionally “feminine values” to help Iceland recover from their economic collapse in 2008. The feminine approach is not better than the traditional male orientation – it fills in what is missing in the current unbalanced approach.
- Influence without authority.
As the world becomes more interconnected, relationships in organizations become more complex. No matter what organizational structure is in place, you must be able to work with others across reporting lines. And you need be able to communicate and collaborate with diverse stakeholders such as vendors and even competitors. Understanding how to influence without authority is a key competency. You can no longer say “Do it because I told you so.” Your ability to influence is dependent on your credibility and character.
- Collaborate across boundaries.
One person cannot have all the answers, nor can one group. The complexities of the organizations and the challenges you face demand that work be organize around the right people, regardless of what department they reside. Silos didn’t work well before. They are impossible in this Age.
- Use technology to stay connected.
Technology has created many challenges. It also holds the answers. Nothing will ever replace the value of face-to-face time, but the reality is that most teams need to be able to work together over great physical distances.
- Drive profits through principles and values.
Organizations are made up of people. When you take a big picture and long-term view, you cannot afford to treat employees as commodities. For organizations to be effective and sustainable in the long-term, leaders must take into account the social and environmental impact of their actions.
Excellent article. I bookmarked it and read it twice because here’s a lot here to take in. I enjoyed the way you told the “story” of the evolution into the age of technology. It’s a world I’m comfortable in because I grew up in it. I think the 9 strategies you listed are on target. This is how I want to work and be treated, and I’m surprised when I’m not. Thanks for showing how this related to the need to shift to a new way of thinking about leadership. Have shared this with several people, my boss included.
Thanks for weighing in, Alex. Many leaders are still operating in a paradigm that doesn’t fit the current reality. They hear the words, but don’t see how radical a shift it is. And most of those who grew up in it don’t see it as a radical change either, because it’s the air they breathe.
Spot on! I especially like #2 and #6. We all need to lead at times and we need to be able to influence without depending on a title to do that.
Thanks Jo Ellen, Your comment started me thinking about how inter-connected all of these strategies are.
I particularly like”develop leadership capacity.” May I also add: develop leadership diversity. We need different voices around a table in this interconnected world.
Very good, Eileen! Once again I am reminded of how integrated these strategies are – “build leadership capacity” and “utilize diversity” = “develop leadership diversity.” Thanks for pointing that out.
Great list of suggestions. Particularly like “Influence without Authority.” Ignoring the “authority” temptation enables true influence on willing participants. The rudder has great impact on a smooth-running ship but that impact gets lost on a ship that is receiving mixed messages.
Excellent point, John. You remind me that even when you do have official authority, you’re better off resisting the temptation to play that card.
As usual stimulating insight and guidance. I use a similar approach in promoting the merits of MYCASKI in as much that I recognize Skills, Values and Experiences have differentiated good, great and exemplary leaders over the ages as you article points out. What I believe is that there is a mindset that has not changed and has sustained leaders through the time. To survive the head of the caveman family still had to MAKE things happen, did not dwell on YESTERDAY, CHALLENGED himself, was fully ACCOUNTABLE, most certainly SET THE EXAMPLE, improved his KNOWLEDGE daily and INTEGRATED relationships. Today this is still valid and will hold good for the future. I would like to think that the MYCASKI reminder will compliment your ‘Strategies’ and if your readers consider regularly practicing it, then it will increase their focus on following your strategies. Any feedback would be most welcome. Best Regards
Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Raymond. You remind me of the adage: learn from the past, plan for the future, but live in the present. Your strategies offer some guidance in answering the questions: How can we learn from the past without dwelling in it? How can we plan for the future without missing out on the fulfillment of the present.