In Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat, the assertion made by the author is that the world is flattening as access to data and information are available to more people in the world than ever before. In order to keep up with the demands of a global society and economy, Friedman contends that every individual must be driven, curious, and innovative. Friedman stresses that our attitudes as global citizens must change and that we must be ready to adapt to the changing world around us. So, if all must take a more active role in an open and networked world, what does that mean for the role of the leader? I believe the answer is significant to all those who want to truly lead and succeed in this changing world.
Significant in what I have read on the topic is the fading belief that a leader is the sole keeper and distributor of knowledge and expertise. Michele Martin wrote of leadership and leaders in the 21st as a facilitator of ideas and action. Martin wrote that the new leader must engage colleagues and employees to participate in generating ideas and question assumptions. Leaders themselves must be willing to acknowledge that ideas and solutions to problems can come from any member of the organization or society, and that it would be to our collective detriment to ignore such contributions. They must invite and actively seek out participation, as Wenger said, in order to move past the idea of leader and follower, building collective contributions.
These opinions and beliefs are similar to those of Nancy Dixon in her description of knowledge management of today. We must move past the days of the leader as the keeper of explicit knowledge and embrace the contributions of the whole or the collective. Dixon believed that relying on the experiential knowledge, knowledge which is constantly evolving and dynamic, is more influential than relying on the knowledge of few. She stated that we as leaders must integrate ideas from diverse perspectives in order to include out-of-the-box thinking and maximize the talent in our organizations. We must be willing to allow for the challenging of ideas and not allow the perspectives of those in positions of power to be considered absolute.
In general, I agree with the perspectives shared above. So, how can we meet the goals of the above authors? First, I think it is important to acknowledge that explicit knowledge is no longer sufficient in today’s connected and open world. Prashant Ranade wrote of the need for leaders to develop or improve their digital quotient. An important component of that, as Ranade described, is the ability to manage the unknowable, recognizing that there are limits to all individual expertise and that as leaders we must rely on others in order to build a network of experts. In order to do that, we can look to the principles of wirearchy. Wirearchy requires the leader to only listen and be accountable, but also to understand how and why people are connecting and sharing information. It is not enough to just gather more information, we must understand its context and synthesize it for use in solving problems and generating new ideas.
I think the best way to describe how my own leadership will change based upon what I learned in the ILD 831 course is by sharing an article on leadership in the digital age posted by The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. The article explains that leadership that facilitates collaboration is not sufficient. While collaboration allows for innovation through participation and empowerment, it does not result in rapid scalability. Instead, the leader should approach leadership in the digital age with an eye on being a co-creator. This type of leader allows employees and other stakeholders to pursue their own individual goals while also achieving organizational goals. In doing so, innovation and creation are more rapidly scalable due to the high level of engagement and participation that it inspires. As we must accept that we alone as leaders cannot possibly keep up with all available knowledge and information, it is in our best interests to inspire others to contribute their own knowledge and expertise to achieve collective goals. Allowing them to pursue their personal goals and growth concurrently seems an ideal way to achieve that end.
The Ayes Have It