Leadership is dead!
Redefining leadership in the age of accelerations
There has been an evolution of what leadership is, and what it does.
Two questions I always ask senior managers taking part in our leadership development programmes are;
- How do you define leadership?
- Which leader in the world do you currently admire?
The first question is easily answered – and the responses usually include what leaders can do for other people, and the behaviours they can model.
This is because leadership is, put simply, creating belief in people. This belief creates the followership without which it could not exist – and this belief is why the value we expect from our leaders, more than anything else, is honesty.
The second question is not as easily answered. The responses usually fall into one of three categories; sports managers, CEO’s or heads of state. Even then, people struggle to explain what they admire specifically about the leadership qualities of those people. In fact, since the death of Nelson Mandela, identifying a single, uniformly admired leader has become difficult.
So where have all the leaders gone?
To answer this question, it’s important to understand the origins of what we define as leadership in relation to human value systems and behaviour.
In their classic study, Spiral Dynamics – Mastering Values, Leadership and Change, Don Beck and Christopher Cowan argue there have been 8 levels of human development or ‘systems’ as they call them. Each level is titled after a colour to reflect its dynamic and each has replaced its predecessor.
Each level of development relates to human cultural, psychological and cognitive reality so they are bio, psycho, social and spiritual systems. Levels 1 and 6 make up the first tier, with the second housing levels 7 and 8.
Beige: Beginning approximately 100,000 years ago.
Survival – Sensation: Sharpening the innate instincts and senses just to stay alive. Hunter/gatherer ways of living.
Purple: Beginning approximately 50,000 years ago.
Spirits – Kinship: Searches for harmony and security in a mysterious world. Shows obedience to chiefs and elders.
Red: Beginning approximately 10,000 years ago.
Self – Force: Aggressively and impulsively expresses itself regardless of the cost. Enjoy pleasures to the fullest with no guilt or remorse. No respect for authority.
Blue: Beginning approximately 5,000 years ago.
Order – Truth: Enforces codes of conduct through domination and threat of predetermined outcomes. Laws and regulations used to build moral standards.
Orange: Beginning approximately 300 years ago.
Achievement – Strategy: Self-interested individuals play to win. Use earth’s resources to create the abundant life. Risk-takers, optimists and successful.
Green: Began approximately 150 years ago.
Human Relationships – Community: Explores the inner I and places everybody at the same level. Freeing humanity from greed. Egalitarian and caring.
The second tier is how do we respond to the complexity and challenges of a world that is exponentially accelerating.
Yellow: Beginning roughly 50 years ago.
Fluid – Flexible: Integrates prior systems as natural hierarchies. Existence is valued over materialistic pursuits. Sees chaos as the genius of serenity.
Turquoise: Beginning roughly 30 years ago
Holistic – Collective Individualism: Self is seen as distinct individuality yet part of greater, ever-evolving whole. Completely responsible action.
These levels of value systems are a different kind of intelligence (from IQ and EQ) which arise in response to our life conditions. It is an intelligence that is contextual, and it emerges as we respond to our own ever-changing environment.
100,000 years ago, our behaviour was primarily defined by our need to survive, so leadership was a resource that ensured our survival. We followed people who were bigger, stronger, faster and wiser.
Each development stage has resulted in the redefinition of what leadership is, and what we require from those leaders. We no longer need individuals (in most of the developed world) to make us feel safe from predators, or to provide all the answers to our questions about our place in the world, or how the world works, as we have access to resources to do this for ourselves.
So, what does this mean in the age of accelerations?
- Leaders need to think differently
- Leaders need act differently
- Leaders need to react differently
Thinking differently means being able to think both divergently and convergently to deal with the ever-increasing complexity of our roles as leaders, of the people we lead and the world in which we do so.
Thinking will also have to be more conceptual, meaning that leaders are readily able to make decisions without having access to all the information, instead making projections and best-guess assumptions about what is coming.
Acting differently means having to collaborate with the workforce and adapt to this flexible dynamic. Leadership will also mean creating environments where people are giving you their best and understanding how to achieve this best, and sustain it. It will also mean taking risks and allowing room for failures as a process of learning.
Reacting differently means becoming more emotionally agile and resilient in the face of ambiguity and uncertainty. It also means being courageous and confident in this age of acceleration.
As we evolve into a new level of value system, what we need from our leadership changes. We no longer need to depend on one individual for our belief, but we still need people to create the right environments for us to flourish. This means that successful leadership is not about one person. It is, instead, about creating the right environment for your people to learn, develop and thrive.