When you ask the average person to define leadership, most people will talk about a role at the top. In few or many words, they start describing a boss, or someone in charge of a company, or a group. Before you can understand why this is wrong, you have to understand what leadership use to mean, and what it means now.
Leadership use to be based on power.
You had to be strong. You had to have persuasive abilities. Everything was about how you could control the rest of the group through powerful means.
Leadership use to be based on layers of power.
Companies weren’t so complex, so the people at the top could easily have control over the pulse of the company. By forming sub layers of power with upper and then middle and then lower management, top up reporting allowed for relevant information to be funneled upward, and commands then funneled downward.
Following a leader has been taught from early on.
We were taught to stand in lines, sit down for hours at a time, only speak when spoken to. We were taught to NEVER challenge authority. We were created to be excellent soldiers, and obedient assembly line employees.
Ideas rarely made their way to the top.
Outside of the box thinking was silenced by the lower layers of leadership, or pushed to the top as their own. Low level employees were rarely rewarded for new ideas, because change was something that didn’t happen very quickly anywhere.
Enter the 21st century.
Knowledge is power. Change is rapid. Big business is complex. CEO’s have a harder time knowing enough to effectively call the shots. Rapid innovation is necessary. Content is king. Strategic partnerships and cross functional employees who belong to many small sub functional groups make organization difficult.
The knowledge workers are often not the compliant ones in the organization. Management and leadership are no longer the same. The role of the alpha-male (fine, alpha-person) is in question.
Leading does not necessarily mean authority.
When a group forms, and one or more people lead that group, it doesn’t give them automatic authority over the rest of the group. There’s times when the person with the authority is participating in the group, but not leading.
Leadership is based on teams.
Yes, there will always exist some form of pecking order. But the best employees of the 21st century want equality. Great employees will want this equality, and where it doesn’t exist, little leadership will be found. Empowerment of each and every person from the front line to the back office is necessary for a super charged 21st century business.
Great leaders are never scared of the unknown. They have a thirst for knowledge. But even more important, they have a deep hunger for teaching. Sharing the wealth of knowledge is important in the 21st century. The best leaders are those who have learned how to learn, and then are good at sharing that newly acquired knowledge. This is a daily exercise for these new leaders.
Since everyone needs to lead, leaders need to be humble.
This may be one of the hardest things to understand. In the 21st century, there is no room for egos that tear down groups around them. This is hard to hear for many currently in “authority”. Although some leaders will end up having more responsibility in their respective groups, everyone is a contributor. The best leaders listen to their groups, teach their groups, and empower their groups, developing leadership qualities as they progress. There is no room for the attitude of “without me, none of this is possible“.
We need to challenge the traditions we value and change our culture.
We need to follow the leaders, learn from the leaders, and start leading others to continue the leading cycle.
This post was inspired by #usguys #usblogs week two theme – “The Twenty-First Century Leader”, and #BloggerLove contest celebrating American Heart Month and the title was taken from Heidi Cohen‘s 125 free blog topics
Special thanks to Ted Coine who taught me I’m not alone in my passion and thoughts.
And the weekly Roundup of themed posts:
- The Leadership Of Friends by Libby Baker Sweiger. @libbytalks
- 10 Leadership Lessons from Twitter by Thomas Moradpour. @tommoradpour
- Follow The Leader by Jonathan Brewer. @houseofbrew
- Global Leadersh…? by Mark Robertson. @markosul
- The End Of The Visionary by Gabriella O’Rourke. @gabyorourke
- 50 Traits I Look For In A Leader by Margie Clayman. @margieclayman
- Recipes For A 21st Century Leader by Mark Babbitt. @youternmark
- A Leader In The 21st Century by Easwar Hariharan. @meindian523
- You Are Not A Machine by Kenny Rose. @grit08
- 21st Century IS Leadership by Todd Randall Jordan. @tojosan
- The 21st Century Leader by Patricia Wilson. @brandcottage
- The 21st Century Leader by Jackie Coughlan. @jackinessity
- Being The Boss In The 21st Century by Bev. @SMBossLady
- My Leadership Philosophy by Sean McGinnis. @seanmcginnis
- 21st Century Leaders Will Be Doodlers by Paul Biedermann. @paulbiedermann
- 21 Century Leadership: The Old Curmudgeon by Allison Aldridge Saur. @aldsaur
- On Leadership: I’m In A Teacher State Of Mind by Paula Lee Bright. @almost60really
- Rebels With A Cause by Freddie Winckler. @lefreddie
- Needed – 21st Century Leaders For An Open World by Karen Lund. @karen5lund
- Soak, Wash, Rince, Spin – Leading In The 21st Century by Patrick Prothe. @pprothe
- Great Leaders Aren’t Born, They Are Made by Don Perkins. @donfperkins
- What I Learned On The Playground by Heidi Cohen. @heidicohen
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