This article was originally published on Forbes November 29, 2016
Traditional leadership models no longer work. While most everyone has a boss, most bosses no longer have the power to get things done on their own. Why?
Companies have complex structures where power is distributed. Engaging employees (which we know is important for results) requires that people understand and buy into decisions. Work is increasingly done through short-term project teams and not through static organizational hierarchies.
Recently I spoke with my friend Julie Williamson, chief growth enabler for Karrikins Group, and we considered how to make sense of leadership in this context. Like me, Julie studies organizations to understand why things happen the way they do and how we can do it better. We identified three questions today’s leaders should ask themselves to increase their impact.
1. Are you influential?
Your positional power is no longer enough to be successful. Hierarchical teams with a positional leader are less prevalent than they were before. Virtual, matrix and temporary teams without a positional leader have become much more common and are, in fact, the way lots of important work gets done.
We see three main reasons for this.
2. Can you adapt your leadership style for different situations?
Leaders who depend on positional authority and command-and-control behaviors are often unable to adapt to situations that require a different type of leadership. Today’s leader must be able to access and engage different leadership styles.
Rather than expecting dispersed members of virtual, matrix, and temporary teams to adhere to traditional leadership paradigms, leaders must be highly flexible and adjust their approaches to fit the conditions and objectives of any project. Nick Petrie of the Center for Creative Leadership conducted a study about future trends in leadership and concluded that the attributes most valuable to future leaders are adaptability, self-awareness, boundary spanning, collaboration and network thinking.
These are very different than the leadership competencies we were talking about five to 10 years ago. Leaders may still be called upon to manage tasks and make decisions, but those skills are different than the agility that’s required of leaders now. One simple strategy to build your leadership agility is this: At the end of the day, ask yourself where you could have led better and why. And, tomorrow, try it differently.
3. Do you know when to follow?
Professor of Finance John S. McCallum defined followership as the ability to take direction well, to get in line behind a program, to be part of a team, and to deliver what is expected. We spend tremendous money, energy and rhetoric on leadership, which signals to people that leading is better than following. But in an environment where no one and everyone is the leader, and an environment where people move in and out of leadership roles, the ability to follow others is increasingly important.
A good leader can see when someone else is leading in a positive direction and make a choice to follow effectively, without taking over. A compelling example of this is the shirtless dancing guy interpreted by entrepreneur Derek Sivers, who emphasizes that being the first follower is an underappreciated leadership role. It requires humility and it requires confidence in others. When positional leadership is less relevant, followership becomes increasingly important, because without followers, there are no leaders.
Positional leadership is still valid and useful in certain environments, but in hyperconnected, complex, interdependent, transparent and collective environments, positional leadership is no longer enough. Today’s effective leaders will operate in ambiguity, make sense out of nonsense, and apply different leadership styles quickly and comfortably. They will move fluidly between leading and following as objectives shift, projects emerge, and teams form and dissolve. Our environment requires a new paradigm for leadership because it no longer comes with the position.