Organic Leadership: Business from the bottom-up


Trust is more important than Control

Are the market stakeholders justified in worrying about Apple’s future success being dependent on the health of its leader Steve Jobs?

Whether or not a company can continue its winning trajectory after the retirement of a strong leader depends on, among other things, whether or not his/her leadership has become organic in the organizational culture.

This post look at leadership in the context of the organizational evolution towards more social business models, when customers, employees and other stakeholders are empowered by information and have more influence in the direction of successful companies.

Classical leadership and its limitations

Leaders use analytical skills to build the strategy hierarchy and can leverage control and power derived from the fact that compensation of employees are directly or indirectly connected with their personal goals. Classical Leadership is about Analysis and Management.

But most of us have experienced this: Breaking complex problems into independent, self-contained smaller tasks is not easy. The stronger the accountability system, the least incentive to collaborate across functional lines. It is easier to reach partial goals and blame other for team failure than to pursue the joint mission and risking not reaching partial metrics.

Classical business execution pursues the efficiency of specialization but ignores creativity and the synergy of collaboration, which makes it inefficient in any activity that requires any more than mechanical execution.

Open Leadership and Organizational Culture

Author Charlene Li wrote that Open Leadership is taking advantage of the upside of giving up control. She argues that, not only giving up control is inevitable (because of the generational and technological changes in progress), but the future of leadership is bright if we can leverage technology and manage that transition well.

The new leader needs to cultivate transparency as a tool and trust as the currency of influence and power. He/She leverages social technologies to have a bi-directional, less hierarchical and segmented conversation with the organization.

Rather than being able to project a vision and a set of goals based on input originating from external research, the leader needs to be able to capture and express the collective intelligence inside the organization.

The vision and market insight for success comes not through the leader to the organization, but through the organization to the person expressing that leadership. New leadership is about Synthesis and Expression.

Has anything has changed?

Of course the components of Command/Control and Trust/Expression have been always present in effective leadership. The fact that new technologies are enabling better real-time collaboration doesn’t change basic principles of business.

But that contrast between Classical and New leadership is useful to move our level of awareness and help us reach a new equilibrium. The pendulum is moving towards reliance on trust, transparency, collaboration and inspiration. There will be less reliance on organizational charts and compensation plans and more on social interaction tools and right-brain inspiration.

The future of Apple

I agree with most who think the success of Apple is a direct result of Steve Jobs leadership. But I don’t think Jobs has created the products out of his genius mind and driven execution by micromanaging everyone. That is not what great leaders do.

Jobs has created an organizational culture that strives for innovation and user experience. His genius is in being able to cultivate and express that culture. That is how, hopefully, it became organic to the organization.

While we all want Jobs to come back, I think Apple has to find someone who can continue to resonate with that culture and express its core values.

Apple will be fine.

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