Leadership in an open and networked world requires all of us

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


11 thoughts on “Leadership in an open and networked world requires all of us

  1. Nice post! The Wharton article fits well with many themes in this course, Ayes. The concept of Collaborator or Co-Creator rather than Commander is interesting. We are seeing the opposite emerge in Washington right now, but I wonder at the longevity (or even scalability) of such a style in a digital world.


    • Dr. Watwood,

      I personally think leaders with a commander approach to leadership become less effective as time goes on. I mentioned to Ayes that the Wharton article brings up the importance of a having a broad range of leadership styles. I think back to my playing days and the coaches that yelled all of the time often lose their effectiveness. It almost became white noise. I am not opposed to a commander style approach but the moments need to be right. I would be interested to hear your take.



      • Jason, from my military days….I responded best to leaders who asked input when in training situations or when stress was low, but were decisive themselves when things got hot. You do not form a committee when bullets start flying…but if you have worked through scenarios before that with everyone, the team clicks better. My take, anyway…


      • These are each great takes on the issue. I do not believe that any one style is ideal and fail to believe that any one style of leadership is immune to losing its effectiveness if overutilized or dependent on the audience. There is certainly a time and place for authoritarian styles (although I believe rarely so), but in today’s digital world I think we will continue to skew towards the benefits of collaboration and co-creation.


  2. Ayes,

    Another great post! I love the question you framed: “if we all must take a more active role in an open and networked world, what does that mean for the role of the leader?” You did a terrific job integrating the course materials, and the Ranade article you shared (http://www.ceo.com/operations/leadership-in-the-digital-age/) was an excellent extension of the discussion. The article resonated with the topics we have discussed in class, and the conclusions are similar. It would be interesting to build an index for the three leadership quotients Ranade proposed: Intelligence + Emotional + Digital.

    The Wharton article you mentioned was very interesting (http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/the-right-leadership-style-for-the-digital-age/). I appreciated the concept of leader as “co-creator of shared value”. Given the prediction that many job tasks will soon be automated (http://www.mckinsey.com/global-themes/digital-disruption/harnessing-automation-for-a-future-that-works), I am curious as to whether you think machines will be co-creators of shared value. Do you think leaders will include machine intelligence in their strategies for co-creating value? Thank you for all your insights throughout the course, and for sparking my ideas!


    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the continued feedback, CatonKB. I think it would be extremely unwise for leaders to ignore the contribution potential of machines. Whether it be machinery, software, or artificial intelligence, these things were all developed in order to increase efficiency, reduce time to completion, improve services, etc. If we do not then incorporate those into our strategic planning and initiatives, someone else certainly will.

      Your question brings my mind to Kevin Kelly’s TED talk on AI (https://www.ted.com/talks/kevin_kelly_how_ai_can_bring_on_a_second_industrial_revolution). Enhancement of our society, our work, and our lives will be moved forward by the combination of the human mind with AI that goes beyond our linear interpretations of intelligence. We ignore the contributions of machines and technology as drivers in our networked world at our own peril.

      The Ayes Have It

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ayes,

    Good evening. Thank you for the Wharton article (http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/the-right-leadership-style-for-the-digital-age/). In the article, I particularly liked the statement, “Leaders need a broader range of style options to match the broader range of assets companies are creating today.” I agree with the statement, but I also think it can be a challenge for many leaders to do this authentically. My contention is that many leaders will revert to their primary leadership style, especially in stressful or particularly challenging situations. Do you feel commanders or communicators can be effective leaders in a digital world?



    • Hi Jason,

      As I discussed above in your response to Dr. Watwood, I do believe that all leadership styles in the Wharton article can be effective some of the time, but I do not believe any of them can be effective all of the time. Each is dependent on the audience and a number of other factors. For example, I think the commander can be particularly effective in instances of an immediate need. A military mission (as Dr. Watwood referenced above) is a great example of this. Long term projects between different companies from different cultural backgrounds and industries may find that a commander type leader is quite ineffective. Every style has its time and place.

      -The Ayes Have It


  4. Ayes Have It,

    I like the last lines of your post. I agree leaders can’t do it alone. Recently, I watched a leader make a decision without the input of various stakeholders. The reaction to the decision was a group of hostile followers. Had this leader understood asking others for their information on the issue would have led to better results and there would have been less resistance to the changes.


    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ayes Have It,

    I really enjoyed your post this week as a perfect way to summarize and interconnect so many of the themes that have occurred throughout the course. Your article by Ranade got me thinking about how this course has got me focusing more about future trends, and I really believe that the concept of a digital quotient (D.Q.) is one such trend. It shouldn’t be surprising that up until this point I haven’t had a lot of exposure to the notion of D.Q., but I see that changing in the upcoming years. All I really see missing is a best selling book that can bring the concept to the masses similar to Daniel Jay Goleman and the idea of Emotional Quotient. As Ranade mentions in his article the concept of a well rounded leader will soon become I.Q. + E.Q. + D.Q. Part of a high D.Q. is recognizing the limits of a single person’s knowledge and using the knowledge of the network.



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