“Liquid Modernity.” That phrase by Zygmunt Bauman is emblazoned in my mind as, perhaps, the most spot-on accurate description of the world in which we all now live and lead. Fluid, ever-changing, morphing, these are words I find myself using a lot when helping leaders understand the nature of the world surrounding their organization, the world in which their enterprise is seeking to make an impact. One question that continues to frame my conversations with leaders is: “What type of organization will thrive and make an impact in the strangeness of this cultural landscape? Who will persist and be remembered as change-makers beyond their own generation?” I guess that’s actually two questions, but you get the point(s)… What kind of organization should we be striving for?
Brafman and Beckstrom say an organizationally “flat,” “leaderless” enterprise, organized by “catalysts” more so than autocrats is powerful.1 Guys like Maxwell and Covey would probably say that the fate of an organization is held primarily in the hands of its pinnacle-located leader (what Denning refers to as the “look-up-and-yell-down” style of leadership).2 It seems that Charlene Li would contend for a middle ground, one where there are clearly recognized leaders but those leaders make it their goal to create open, collaborative space where information flows multi-directionally. It is hard to argue against such an organization when we assess the realities of the world in which we live.
To say things move quickly now is akin to saying that the Grand Canyon is a little hole out there in the desert. I had a funny conversation with a high schooler Tuesday night at the coffee shop. They were finding us for the first time due to the one-act play we were hosting on behalf of the High School drama club. I was pointing out that they could “find us on Facebook” and keep up with the latest happenings and menu changes… blah blah blah… when he looked a bit perplexed. It was in that moment that I realized all of the hours of engagement and effort to build a loyal Facebook following was only hitting the 30-something and older crowd. A few youngsters (mostly out of pity for me) are a part of our FB community but when I said to the young man “I guess we have to find our way onto Instagram and Twitter for you to keep up with us, huh?” He said “yeah but we’ll probably move off of those as soon as you folks (his nice way of saying “old people”) get there.” This reality is further highlighted by the fact that Charlene Li’s own bio page on altimetergroup.com is celebrating that “[h]er next book “The Engaged Leader” will publish in March 2015 (See http://www.altimetergroup.com/about-us/our-company/our-team/charlene-li/).” Ummm… What month is it?
it seems to me that an orientation towards openness is the only way that a leader can hope to be effective in this current climate where change is the only constant. I, for one, am not trying to “get a handle” on things any more, not trying to get the system down… I’m just trying to be open. Open in my conversations; open in my questions; open in my doubts, open to new ideas that might seem nuts; open to those who I am leading… I’ve tried autocratic, it stresses me out. I’ve tried flat/leaderless, it results in a whole lot of nothing getting done. I think Open is better… AND I need to go update my website
- Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom. The Starfish and the Spider. (New York: Penguin Group,2006.)
- Stephen Denning. The Secret Language of Leadership. (San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007.) 7.