The conventional wisdom is that leadership is associated with a role. It is something to be left to Bosses, Managers, and those who have authority. This model worked fine when markets moved slowly and competitors had the same leadership model.
Today, business is very different. Markets change very quickly, competitors continually try to take your customers, and the lifespan of companies has shrunk. Organizational change is relying more and more on quick decisions, short iterations for delivery of products and services, and Agile transformation methods.
The average lifespan of a company listed in the S&P 500 index of leading US companies has decreased by more than 50 years in the last century, from 67 years in the 1920s to just 15 years today, according to Professor Richard Foster from Yale University. Today’s rate of change “is at a faster pace than ever.” If companies are to survive, they will need a model for leadership that is different than in the past, because, as the accelerated corporate death rate shows, relying on the old methods of leadership has Darwinian implications.
Leadership must move out of the hierarchy and to the front lines.
It must move from one or a few brains, to all the brains in the organization. Leadership is not a role, it is a task best accomplished by the person with the most/best information at that time. In most organizations, the person with the best information is rarely the Boss or the Manager, because almost all of their information is second hand. Leadership needs to be delegated from Bosses and Managers to the people doing the work who have the best information. This has implications for everyone. It means that positional power is not as important to company survival, but too much positional power can threaten company survival.
So how do we enable Leadership at the front lines? Training? Coaching? Empowering? While all those things can help, the answer is NO. If you want a company that survives and thrives then focus on organizational change (we recommend adopting Agile transformation to help). The structure of your organization defines how decisions are made, how people are rewarded, what positions have power, what policies are enforced and by whom. Changing the organizational structure with the specific goal of enabling Leadership at the front lines is a crucial step building a company that will last. This is Systems Thinking Leadership.