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Jim Whitehurst: What is the role of a leader in an open world?

MIX Maverick Jim Whitehurst says that when you're asking people to innovate rather than just turn a crank faster, the way to motivate them has to be different. Leaders in open organizations need to be inspiring, inclusive, and hands-on.

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grant-lichtman's picture

I am going to forward this piece to our school management team. This is not something that only for-profits struggle with; in fact in the overly democratic venue of a school, where the faculty are revered and all points of view are often given equal weight, the struggle between top-down generals and innovating minds can get really muddy.

I am working to shift the conversation in our schools to the issue of value proposition, as that is something that everyone can reflect and measure against, even though they may not want to (for good reasons) all walk lock step in how they teach their classes. But the current tendency is for "general mode" to take over in the leadership and we are still not good at balancing that with promoting percolation and innovation.

tajudeen-bakare's picture

The factor or set of factors that has the most pervasive influence over definition of the manager's role is the general philosophy of management of an organization.Over the years,organizations like people,develop their own peculiar patterns of thinking and acting-corporate personalities as it were.All managers are expected to help with the actual work of their units rather instead of merely supervising the work of others.This style,it turns out,represents an extension of the personality and personal management philosophy of the company founder.The point is the particular philosophy developed by an organization shapes both the explicit and implicit duties of the manager.Organizations that have patterned themselves after the highly structured blueprint of classical theory tend to expect their managers to be strong,directive,and even authoritarian.Those influenced by the Human Relations movement tend to encourage a more non-directive,participative style.

pawel-rzeczkowski's picture

Is the public company structure with all the institutional investors from wall street demanding short term quarterly focus inhibiting full implementation of decentralized collaborative open-innovation? Is is even possible to implement prof Gary Hamel's brilliant ideas about management in the public company environment? What do we reform to deal with this problem? Wall Street or corporate structure (go private to innovate and be good)?

guy-higgins's picture

Great question! Unless there is some change, I don't think that a publicly held company can implement radically new management practices. The institutional stockholders will be too risk averse (Change is good. You go first.). Perhaps the inspirational CEO of an innovative company needs to lead his shareholders. Is that what Steve Jobs did at Apple?

david-marquet_1's picture

Jim, super discussion.
You've well laid out the case that our fundamental "leader-follower" approach doesn't work.

The leader-follower structure developed during the past 10,000 years when work has been physical and now our most important work is intellectual.

The key is understanding how control can be appropriately decentralized. This requires technical competence among employees and clarity of vision.

I've included your talk in our Daily Read.
thanks again.