In today’s information economy, predictability has gone the way of the VHS and fax machine. Organizations are struggling to keep up with fluctuating customer demands. Workers are becoming disillusioned and disengaged.
The tension between organizations optimised for predictability and the unpredictable world they inhabit has reached a breaking point. Those led by traditional, transactional, command-and-control practices will not survive.
The pyramid of power
When we picture an organizational structure, typically a pyramid comes to mind. Under the pyramid model, power and privilege are concentrated at the top. It then trickles down through lesser and lesser ranks, leaving those at the bottom with the heaviest workload and the least privilege.
For centuries, the pyramid structure kept monarchies stable, dictated the rank-and-file system of the military, and yielded highly reproducible goods from assembly lines. The model served America’s manufacturing economy well, helping it surge for most of the 20th century.
The leadership style under the pyramid was transactional. The relationship between leader and employee was strictly quid pro quo where work was traded for wages. Companies needed “hired hands” to produce goods in a highly repeatable, efficient process. Greater efficiency meant higher profit for the company. It also meant devaluing the dignity of the employees.
The 21st century information economy is marked by global connectivity and destabilization. Information and telecommunications technologies have created a new economy of information that collapses the traditional boundaries of space and time.
Information is the new raw material. As that material is applied to organizations, everything changes. The collapse of time and space boundaries requires organizations to follow by collapsing their organizational structures along with their hierarchical notions of power. The command-and-control leadership style is no longer sufficient.
Ditching the Pyramid
To be successful in the information economy, leaders must be willing to remove themselves from the power paradigm. They must be willing to be transformed – to learn and grow from those they lead.
Under transformative leadership, the flow of information and influence is bi-directional. Leaders and followers collaborate to advance to a higher level of understanding, transforming both in the process. Together, they turn the raw material of information into knowledge, and that knowledge into service.
I suggest that the best test of transformative leadership is to ask, “Do I grow as a person as a result of my leadership of others?”
I’m thrilled to be one of the featured speakers at the upcoming Future of Work Conference in Boston where we will unpack this topic in greater detail. If you’re interested in learning more about the Future of Work Conference in Boston December 7-8, 2015, and other featured speakers, please click here.
This blog was adapted from the CEE Vantage© White Paper released October 1st. Click here to receive a free copy of this white paper or subscribe to our monthly CEE Newsletter to get free resources delivered to your inbox.