daily dispatches from the management vanguard
Syndicating the Work of Leadership
We live in a world where never before has leadership been so necessary but where so often leaders seem to come up short. Our sense is that this is not really a problem of individuals; this is a problem of organizational structures—those traditional pyramidal structures that demand too much of too few and not enough of everyone else.
So here we are in a world of amazing complexity and complex organizations that just require too much from those few people up top. They don’t have the intellectual diversity, the bandwidth, the time to really make all these critical decisions. There’s a reason that, so often in organizations, change is belated, it is infrequent, it is convulsive.
Because, typically, in those traditional structures, by the time a small team at the top realizes there’s a need for fundamental change, by the time a problem is big enough or an opportunity clear enough that it prompts action, that it breaks through all the levels, commands the attention of these extraordinarily busy people up top—it’s too late. So if we want to build truly adaptable organizations, we have to syndicate the work of leadership more broadly.
I think the dilemma is that as complex as our organizations have grown, as fast as the environment is changing, there are just not enough extraordinary leaders to go around. Look at what we expect from a leader today. We expect somebody to be confident and yet humble. We expect them to be very strong in themselves but open to being influenced. We expect them to be amazingly prescient, with great foresight, but to be practical as well, to be extremely bold and also prudent.
How many people like that are out there? I haven’t met very many. Right? People who have the innovation instincts of Steve Jobs, the political skills of Lee Kuan Yew, and the emotional intelligence of Desmond Tutu? That’s a pretty small set. And yet we’ve built organizations where you almost need that caliber of person for them to run well if you locate so much of the decision-making authority in the top of the organization.
MIX co-founder Gary Hamel in conversation with McKinsey Publishing’s Simon London on the Leaders Everywhere Challenge
How do we overcome the formal hierarchy and promote more natural leadership? How do we dramatically expand the leadership capacity of our organizations? And how do individuals learn to lead without authority? Do you have a bold idea or a story that tackles one of these questions? Join the Leaders Everywhere Challenge and earn a chance to win this year’s HBR/McKinsey M-Prize for Management Innovation (deadline June 17th).