14 min read ⌚
Reinventing Leadership for the Age of Mass Collaboration
Ever wondered how Wikipedia became Wikipedia without a leader?
Emmanuel Gobillot did years before people even took notice.
Leadership must be reinvented for the age of mass collaboration, he suggested, and incorporate this paradigm shift in itself:
Who Should Read “Leadershift”? And Why?
“In today’s wikinomics world, yesterday’s leadership traits can be liability,” writes Wikinomics coauthor Don Tapscott. “Leadershift shows leaders how to prepare their collaborative minds.”
So, if you are a leader who wants to prepare for the mass collaboration age we’re going through, then don’t hesitate to consult this book. But, be warned: it was published a decade ago, and many of the things Gobillot suggested you should be doing before anybody else – you’re already doing.
About Emmanuel Gobillot
Emmanuel Gobillot is a leadership guru and a bestselling author.
Described as “the first leadership guru for the digital generation” and even “the freshest voice in leadership today,” Emmanuel Gobillot has over two decades of experience in helping organizations globally rethink the way they build and run themselves.
He has authored five bestselling leadership and management titles, including Disciplined Collaboration and Unleash Your Leader, all driven by his trademarked mantra: “There must be a better way and together we can find it!”
Find out more at https://www.emmanuelgobillot.com/
“Leadershift PDF Summary”
Written soon after the financial crisis of 2008, Leadershift by Emmanuel Gobillot – not to be confused with the same-titled book by leadership guru John C. Maxwell – tries to see how the age of mass collaboration and horizontal hierarchical structures affects the position of the leader, until recently (and all the way from the Stone Age) a clearly defined title role one could only get based on his “experience, expertise and control.”
However, Gobillot claims, this is an outdated model of leadership, and we can only guess the one that is soon to be introduced via the “mass collaboration” paradigm shift. Since nothing of that sort has ever happened before, he writes, “there are few, if any, clues from the past to inform the way we can be successful in the future, we are unlikely to get insights into becoming leaders in the next generation by looking back at our experiences or our elders.”
So, suitably, Gobillot looks forward: he analyzes which factors have contributed to the “leadershift” of the title and then he suggests what kind of adjustments leaders are supposed to make to keep up with time. In essence, this makes Leadershift a book of four trends and four shifts – we summarize them all below!
The Day of Reckoning: We Need a New Type of Leader
Leadershift opens with a tellingly beautiful quote by The Little Prince author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry – “As for the future, your task is not to foresee it, but to enable it” – which Gobillot comments upon soon after, thus:
If the quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry that opens this introduction is right (and no French citizen would ever suggest otherwise), our role is not to guess what happens next or try to foresee the future. Our role as leaders is to decide what we want this future to be. Our role is to view our organizations through the lens of 48 million avatars currently roaming the web, 10 percent of whom do so for more than 10 hours a day. Our role is to decide how we can capture the energy of mass collaboration to redefine first our business models and ultimately the very meaning of business.
In other words, according to Gobillot, the future has arrived and in a form not really predicted by capitalism: people are mass collaborating on projects in a way that has allowed practically anonymous contributors to create the most comprehensive (and perhaps the very best) encyclopedia in history (Wikipedia) without nothing but a desire and a self-perfecting list of rules created on the go by the very same community.
The financial turbulences of 2008, Gobillot says, are practically minor compared to this type of “pervasive… clear-air turbulence.” The former he deems short-term (even though writing in the midst of the crisis), but the latter he rightly sees as affecting the leadership role in the long run – if not irreversibly.
“Whilst the first type of turbulence questions our effectiveness as leaders,” he writes, “the second kind questions the very essence of leadership.”
The Four Trends That Question the Essence of Leadership
As each day passes, “the way leaders create value becomes less effective.” Put in simpler terms, the very levers they rely on – experience, knowledge, effort, and power – “are being eroded by four major trends.”
Gobillot names these trends the Demographic, the Expertise, the Attention, and the Democratic trend – and he explains why they spell (quite literally, since the four trends actually form the acronym DEAD), the death of leadership as we know it.
The Demographic Trend: Making Your Experience Irrelevant
The first trend eroding the levers of traditional leadership is the demographic trend since it quite forcefully makes your experience (one of the tenets of leadership) irrelevant and obsolete.
“In a nutshell, the demographic trend is we now find ourselves with multiple generations with multiple socio-cultural backgrounds working alongside each other,” writes Gobillot. “Each brings with it its own hopes, fears, expectations, and experiences that other generations do not understand and to which they cannot relate.”
How does this affect your leadership position?
Well, put simply, no matter what kind of experience you have, you’ll be leading a group of people who will most definitely have a different background (and, thus, experiences) than you. Gone are the days of the assembly-line-based Victorian styles of education, as are the days of the overtly racist and/or covertly sexist work environment.
Nowadays, you’ll have to lead, at the same time, a 52-year-old blue-collar American manager, a 37-year-old female Mexican designer with expertise in at least one different area, and a 23-year-old African-American intern with a dream.
Your experience (no matter how wide-ranging) would never help you empathize with all of your workers – if only a third. And when that happens, when your experience bears no resemblance to the experience of people who you are called to lead – or in no way offers you any insight into what might make you successful – you risk becoming absolutely irrelevant.
The Expertise Trend: Making Your Knowledge Irrelevant
Think of Wikipedia once again.
Though very few of the people who contribute to it are consensually deemed experts in their fields, numerous foremost experts in their fields start their research on Wikipedia where they can find info on anything from Thomas Mann’s bibliography to all the previous Academy Award nominees for a foreign movie to current advancements in quantum physics.
That’s the power of Web 2.0, the participative/social web which, according to Wikipedia of course, “refers to websites that emphasize user-generated content, ease of use, participatory culture and interoperability (i.e., compatible with other products, systems, and devices) for end-users.”
Until very recently, many organizations existed because this was impossible and because they helped significantly in reducing the contractual costs of managing multiple relationships. However, now that technology has allowed “for networks to create value in a much more inclusive, and therefore powerful way than organizations can,” they are not as necessary.
In other words, if an encyclopedia can be written without leaders and if billions of DIY tutorials and MOOC courses are available for free online, then is there really a need for an expert leader in any field? Why shouldn’t they be replaced by software as well?
The Attention Trend: Making Your Efforts Irrelevant
The third trend that makes traditional leadership outmoded is the attention trend: we are just incapable of paying attention to everything that happens around us. Consequently, it is irrelevant how much you try as a leader: a lot of your work will definitely go unnoticed.
Here are just a few mind-boggling stats Gobillot provides that make his case even clearer:
• The average e-mail user received 65,000 messages during 2009 alone (it’s probably even more today).
• More than 300,000 books are published every year.
• The average weekday edition of The New York Times contains more information than someone would have come across in his or her lifetime in 17th-century England.
• Forty exabytes (4 × 1019) of unique information is produced in a year – more than was produced in the previous 5,000 years taken together.
• There are around 2 billion web pages and the Internet is 500 larger than the 91 million daily Google searches can ever show.
• A typical supermarket stocks around 40,000 items.
“So, where do you focus?” asks Gobillot. “Where do you go for answers?”
Bombarded by messages and information, modern human beings have no choice but to be selective: selectiveness is “our way of cutting through the information clutter and the demands on our attention.”
Organizations were used to an essential part of the network of attention, but “a collection of social and informational networks is coming to replace them as a source of coherence and cohesion for people.”
To Gobillot, the reason is clear: “they replicate more closely the way we seek engagement than organizations have been able to achieve through their narrow focus on roles, rules, and economic incentives, rather than on individuals and their sense of moral and social obligations.”
Put simply, the attention trend means that everyone is living in a filter bubble now to make sense of the world and leaders are being selected out.
The Democratic Tread: Making Your Power Irrelevant
“In the democratic world,” writes Gobillot, “leaders are no longer an accident of birth. We can choose whom to follow. We even get to vote whenever we want. In this world, the leader never gets to call the election.”
Consequently, leaders are devoid of positional power and unable to engage people. Free agencies and freelancers make it all but impossible for them to create followers: the very idea of being “an employee” has nothing to do with what that word meant to our parents and our parents’ parents.
You can’t lead someone who can leave after a year, can you? And they are not fully engaged with any organization, are they?
The Four Shifts: Meeting Change Head-On
Since the four trends explicated above, taken together, spell the death of leadership as we know it, if you want to remain relevant as a leader today, you need to wiggle your way through the changes by becoming a new type of a leader.
Even though, at first glance, the trends above seem damning to the very need of leaders in the modern world, in reality, it is not so: though members of a community don’t necessarily act as the “tragedy of the commons” thought experiment predicted in 1968, they do need to feel as if they belong to the community for the community to thrive. And, as all human beings do, they fear being expelled.
Modern leaders should work to allay these fears and fortify the feeling of belonging, by securing engagement, ensuring alignment, creating accountability and obtaining commitment. These, according to Gobillot, are the four shifts that would transform traditional leadership into modern leadershift, an alternative method to govern mass collaboration communities.
Shift 1 – From Clarity to Simplicity: Securing Engagement
The arch-nemesis of connection is complexity: when one feels unable to understand the instructions for engagement or the interface that stands between them and the community, they simply give up trying to become a member without even trying.
That’s why it should be the first job of a leader to make the transition between being outside of a community and inside it as smooth as possible. Leaders should work hard to eliminate complexity, by simplifying everything – “processes, products, reporting lines and channels” – even if that means eliminating legacy processes and systems.
In addition to this, they should always provide coherence, because a community that grants independence to its members would soon stop being a community. “Coherence is the ability to highlight the interdependence of a system,” i.e., the ability to demonstrate to every member of a team that though being a simple clog, he/she is an essential part of the whole.
Shift 2 – From Plans to Narratives: Ensuring Alignment
By definition, leaders must answer two critical questions: 1) How do I ensure that community members understand their involvement in the social process (i.e., how do they best contribute)? And 2) How do I make sure that people stay aligned behind the mission?
In the past, both of these questions were answered with a plan. But plans are now just vestiges of some bygone times since they have in their very nature engraved the idea of a top-to-down hierarchy.
The modern age is an age of narratives: people don’t want to hear orders and instructions, but they want to be part of a story that unites them. “The role of the leader,” writes Gobillot, “is to facilitate the narrative – helping participants and the community define who they are, what they aspire to and how they hope to get there.”
If you are a leader, always remember that the best narratives are the ones that are able of providing an answer to three all-important questions: “Who are we?” “Where are we going?” and “Why are we going there?”
Shift 3 – From Roles to Tasks: Creating Accountability
If you are working in the IT-sector, you already know what Gobillot means by this third shift (and can probably discern his farsightedness).
Namely, once again, the idea of a “role” is a remnant of the time when vertical hierarchy was believed to be the only way to structure the relationship in an organization. Each member, thus, becomes a function of a superstructure, and it is not through his individuality and uniqueness that he/she is asked to contribute, but through his ability and skillset to conform to his function/role.
That, however, came with a burden: people were asked to leave their social roles outside the door of their companies.
It is, fortunately, quite different nowadays: because of the advancements in technology, social roles do not need to interfere with organizational roles. You can be whoever you like to be – not just outside of work, but inside as well (even if that means not wearing pants).
Though roles are not easily disposable even in modern work environments, they are now much more fluid and flexible, and the best organizations can easily think of their workers (regardless of their job titles) in terms of tasks. Tasks are listed and are up for grabs – giving leaders the opportunity to easily detect hard workers from slackers and hold the latter accountable, even if they work from home.
Shift 4 – From Money to Love: Obtaining Commitment
They used to teach leaders that money is the ultimate motivator. However, as numerous studies have demonstrated (not the least this TED Talk from Daniel Kahneman), after a certain limit (and especially in certain professions) money tends to demotivate.
Fortunately, during the past few decades, we’ve managed to go past that limit and for the majority of people. So, leaders need to change if they want to achieve commitment from their workers. Stats have shown that if the mission of your company doesn’t align with your employees’ interests, after one or two pay rises, you can do absolutely nothing to motivate them unless you change your company’s course.
Love works much better than money: it motivates beyond every point and limit. People would do absolutely everything for an organization and a leader they love.
To become one of the latter, start first by loving your job as well: if you don’t love it, say goodbye to the possibility of socially incentivizing your employees. Then, start concentrating on the community rather than concentrating on your individual workers.
“For leaders,” writes Gobillot, “this may be somewhat counter-intuitive as we have been told as leaders that we need to understand what motivates an individual and focus our efforts on maximizing that motivation. But what matters to the functioning of our communities is not what motivates individuals but rather that they direct that motivation to making the community stronger.”
Key Lessons from “Leadershift”
1. Traditional Leadership Is an Outdated Model
2. The Four Trends That Have Eroded the Tenets of Traditional Leadership into Obsolesce
3. A Redefined Role: The Four Shifts in Leadership
Traditional Leadership Is an Outdated Model
Traditional leadership was based on several unquestionable tenets: expertise, experience, control, domineering presence, authority. None of them matter anymore, says Gobillot – at least not in a world of mass collaboration that has produced Wikipedia.
The Four Trends That Have Eroded the Tenets of Traditional Leadership into Obsolesce
Four major societal trends have forever transformed the role of leadership in the 21st century and beyond:
• The demographic trend means that multiple generations from different races, genders, and ethnic backgrounds now work alongside each other – each with demands and experiences that others cannot comprehend. Consequently, your experience as a leader is not enough.
• The expertise trend means that “expertise is now to be found as much outside as inside the organization”: the knowledge of the people who wrote Britannica is irrelevant because a bunch of much less knowledgeable people was able to create Wikipedia.
• The attention trend means that “organizations have to fight harder than ever to capture the attention of employees and customers as information and interaction sources lay claim to limited time.” Think smartphones, emails, video games, TV channels, Netflix, HBO and all the other distractions out there.
• The democratic trend means that “the likelihood of leaders having direct control (rather than dotted lines or no lines at all) over their resources is remote.” Think freelancers and agencies.
A Redefined Role: The Four Shifts in Leadership
To counter the four trends, leaders need to change significantly, making four all-important shifts from the traditional leadership model. Where they once relied on clarity, plans, roles, and money to create a working community, they now need to rely on:
• Simplicity: the more complex the instructions are, the less engaged a member of the community is. Consequently, everything needs to be simplified and made coherent, combining both purpose and straightforwardness of use.
• Narratives: plans are a list of orders, i.e., remnant of top-to-down hierarchical structure. To align the members of your community with a single mission, you need to ensure that they are all part of the organization’s arching story.
• Tasks: in an ever-changing environment, roles that define accountability must make way for tasks – a member of a community is not merely a function of an organization, but someone who can choose their own destiny by combining several different tasks pertaining to their interest and skillset
• Love: Money motivates only to a certain point. Love motivates beyond it. Make your employees love their job, rather than trying to buy their commitment: it doesn’t work anymore.
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“Leadershift Quotes”By 2015 the working population of ‘advanced’ economies will have shrunk by 65 million. Click To Tweet The transient nature of employment is making it a lot harder for leaders to have an enforceable psychological contract with their employees. Click To Tweet An organization’s brand is the main incarnation of its narrative. Click To Tweet In mass collaboration no one seems to be in control. Click To Tweet Conflict between the role we are required to play and the role we are looking to fulfill is the source of many of the social dysfunctions we are starting to experience in the workplace. Click To Tweet
Our Critical Review
It is fascinating to think how redundant seems Leadershift merely a decade after being published.
Ten years ago, it may have been all but revolutionary, but nowadays, what Gobillot had so farsightedly observed years before other leaders, is part of the common knowledge.
In other words, many of the things Gobillot suggests you should do as a leader, you’re already doing – merely via the force of necessity.
But don’t take away nothing from him: as Leadershift proves, he knew that the role of the leader will be redefined completely at a time when very few people even bothered questioning the concept of traditional leadership.
Hats off to Gobillot for that!