The Future of Work is The Future of Leadership

An insight about the future of work dropped this morning as I discussed leadership in the network era with Harold Jarche and Jon Husband, my colleagues in Change Agents Worldwide.

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The Future of Work is the Future of Leadership

The future belongs not to the leadership of technology. The future belongs to the technology of leadership.

Our opportunity is not incremental improvement in the leadership of change to implement network technologies. Our opportunity is a much more important transformation of the critical human technology of leadership for the network era. Only new leadership capabilities & concepts will enable us to realise the potential of the future of work

Realising Human Potential is What Matters

If you are one of the thought leaders, consultants or vendors working to bring about the adoption of social collaboration technology, you know there is a raging debate about what changes in social and network technology means for organisations. However, there is much that is unclear in the debate about the future of work.  Social Business is deadnot dead or even not enough. The biggest challenge is adoption, lack of executive buy-in, return on investment or even organisation’s success. You need a collaboration layer, you need purposeful collaboration or you need cooperation instead.

If you are a manager in an organisation trying to achieve outcomes in a rapidly changing business climate, you most likely missed this entire conversation. The debate about the impact of social collaboration technology is not even on your radar (unless a consultant or vendor has caused you to reflect on it for a moment before you returned to the daily challenge of running your business).

What matters most to managers is more effective human collaboration – collaboration that improves the performance of your business for your customers and delivering better work experience for your people. Managers everywhere wish there were better ways to tap the talents, innovation and engagement of their people to help deliver better outcomes. That is at the heart of the discussion of employee engagement in our organisations.

The technology that engages people and realises potential is called leadership. That’s why so many investments are made by organisations in leadership development and in a push for leadership in every role. Leadership is the most effective technology to solve for the management wish.

Network Era Leadership Realises Human Potential

Work is a human task. Leadership is the work of mobilising others to action. Leadership is how we help people to realise their human potential. Much of our network and collaboration technology is just an infrastructure for the work and leadership required. The network can magnify the culture of the organisation, but we need the right leadership models for managers to realise the potential of a network era of work.

Traditional management & leadership approaches inherit many of their concepts from process models borrowed from the industrial era. In this mindset human potential is measured in productivity terms.  The command and control culture focuses on using the right processes to drive human productivity and align that productivity with the right tasks. The engines of human potential (engagement, knowledge creation, experimentation, innovation & enablement) are driven out as sources of volatility & waste. What many call leadership is better described as a process of command of people with an efficiency mindset. That is not leadership at all.

These traditional management concepts also get baked into organisational systems. We have built much technology to explicitly or implicitly reflect these industrial models of management and work. Look inside any organisation and you will find plenty of systems designed from the top-down that reinforce hierarchical command and control. Pull out your system process maps and look for your employee’s ability to do exception handling. In many cases there is no exception process. Exceptions are handled in hacks.

Transparency, responsiveness, the ability to work across silos and effectiveness are often surrendered to tight control of process, narrow measurement of process outcomes, compliance and efficiency. Critical systems in customer management and human resources systems offer some of the most striking examples of these constraints and are widely copied from organisation to organisation. To the frustration of everyone, managers and people must work around these systems to collaborate and cooperate effectively while managing waves of top down change management to bring them back to compliance with process.

The disruption of the networked era is evidence of the scale of change that networks are bringing to our lives. ‘Kodak Moment’ has an entirely new meaning today. This pace of change focuses our attention on a need for change in the concepts of leadership & organisation to support a changing world of work.

We need not focus much on the threats of this era. The opportunities of new models of work and leadership are greater. New network technologies give a glimpse of the potential for leaders to better leverage the people of organisations for work and innovation.  However, realising the potential of human collaborative and cooperative knowledge work in networks demands new leadership models.

We Know How to Start Leading in the Network Era

Each new era brings social changes and requires new more effective concepts. We updated the concepts of leadership and management at the birth of the industrial era, leveraging existing concepts from the military and other spheres of human life. Now people need to work to develop new models to leverage the infrastructure delivered by networks and collaboration technology.

The good news is that many of these concepts are already clear and have been developed by practitioners to the point where they are capable of application in everyday work. These practices now work highly effectively and can be taught. Managers now need to pick these up and build the capability in their people to lead in new ways, using:

  • Deeper self-awareness and understanding of human behaviour and drivers of high performance
  • A greater focus on systems and a wider view of outcomes and stakeholders
  • Purpose & Trust to enable leadership & followership in every role
  • Experimentation & Adaptation
  • Collaboration & Cooperation
  • Network models of work organisation like Wirearchy, Pods and Swarms
  • Social work and learning, such as personal knowledge managementworking out loud.

However, we cannot expect managers do to all the work alone. We will need to support them with learning, coaching and the opportunity to practice the new skills and mindsets.  We need to change the organisational systems and processes that hold back this opportunity to better leverage human potential.

Making these changes is the great challenge of leadership is in the new network era. It is the work I will be focused on with my colleagues in Change Agents Worldwide as we help others to navigate these changes.

The future of work is the future of leadership for everyone in organisations. Building a better more effective model of leadership will help realise the human potential of this future. Join the effort in your organisation to build a new technology of leadership to make this possible.

What Does A Friend Look Like In The Age Of Social?

Or, How John Hagel, David Armano, Hugh MacLeod and Harold Jarche Kickstarted Me.

Here’s how it began.

2011 Back story: In my MarComms job, I had two projects front of mind – launching an Enterprise Social Network (we were the first company in the world to completely replace our intranet with Yammer) and developing a bunch of infographics on business performance (turning heavy PowerPoint slides into something more digestible). Independently, I was mentoring some young communicators who were trying to work out their pitch and career paths.

I spent a lot of time thinking about these topics; with plenty of online research. I was working out how to not just understand these topics, but put them into practice. I was on twitter rather passively, following a fist full of thought leaders – among them meme capturer / destroyer Hugh MacLeod, (Center of the) Edge thinker John Hagel and the social / design maven David Armano.

I also helped edit some resumes; and ended up updating mine (I was called to account for having a very out of date one) but was disappointed in the outcome – it did not capture the essence and depth of what I felt I could offer.

Then, one day, the three topics coalesced around a single idea: develop a social (shareable) infographic resume, for myself, as an intellectual exercise in creating content that people want to talk about and share, that allows them to know me better / deeper, and that drives my own career trajectory (I was not looking for a new job, but I did want to own my career path more keenly.)

So, I sketched up some ‘3-D’ ideas.

JA-on-my-mindThen I sent to a friendly designer and, why, there it was – a look along my journey; even a look inside my brain. Wherein, snippets of Armano/MacLeod/Hagel genius.

Next, I shared it, as you do. I put it on Slideshare and tweeted Armano a thanks. He, in turn, kindly tweeted:

Next thing I know it was trending on Slideshare home page and had several thousands hits.

That process lead to the development of the personal branding BrandBoards product. But there’s more.

Soon after, I was invited by Yammer to attend a Customer Advisory Board meeting in San Francisco, and to present on the social journey we had been on using yammer-as-intranet. I met many corporate social technology mavens there, real thought leaders and active practitioners. Who was on as keynote before me? None other than John Hagel. Neat. It was a most inspiring event, and one name came up a few times as someone to follow and study: Harold Jarche.

No-one has since guided my own social journey more than Jarche. Deep, patient, profound, inviting, his writing and approach to net work is something I have appropriated for myself (the approach, not the writing!)

Flying back to Vancouver from that event, I was both lifted and highly focused. I needed to show up differently at work, to stake a claim for a new way of working, to work out loud.

And touching down in YVR, I saw some tweets about Armano being in town the next day and hosting a Q&A. Synchronicity. I went along, had a chat about ESNs and social business. Things were moving.

I have been a fairly heavy poster / participant in the Yammer Customer Network over time, especially in the ‘thought leadership’ category. Therein I cultivated relationships with many strong, vibrant social leaders.

That lead, via Ernst Décsey, to an invite to a new, progressive group of social business (or whatever we are calling it today) leaders who were developing a new model of working around change, social, network theory.

Rather fraudulently, I joined Change Agents Worldwide (CAWW) crew here, and suddenly I was (virtual) face-to-face with people whose content and ideas I had used and pushed inside my own organization: the amazing graphics of Joachim Stroh; working out loud with Bryce Williams; sharing wirearchically with Jon Husband; and then, (network theory crush!) The Jarche himself!

How wonderful.

Now, why did I write all this? Oh yes, to talk about friendship, and trust.

CAWW friends in NYC
CAWW friends in NYC

The social journey for me has been an immense undertaking as I uncouple the vestiges of my (the?) old ways of thinking and embrace the opposites of what I have known to be normal:

  • from local to global
  • from private to public
  • from head-down to horizon-seeking
  • from control to choice
  • from saved to shared.

In this process, on this journey, I have made new friends, quick friends, high trust friends, guiding friends, virtual friends. I am sure neither John Hagel nor David Armano remember who I am [Update: Armano told me he did remember me. Nice.], but they are still friends, because they have given freely and I have received gratefully, and amplified their gifts to others. From them and others, I have learned to ask “How can I help?”  to strangers with no distinct quid pro quo other than, we are all in this together.

There is a Peter Matthiessen quote I use all too often.

“Soon the child’s clear eye is clouded over by ideas and opinions, preconceptions, and abstractions. … Not until years later does an instinct come that a vital sense of mystery has been withdrawn.

The sun glints through the pines and the heart is pierced in a moment of beauty and strange pain, like a memory of paradise.

After that day, we become seekers.”

I return to it regularly for two reasons. As a parent to two young kids I get to see through their clear eye every day. Also, it helps me reflect on how in the last few years I, too, have become a seeker again. Much of that is down to social, virtual friends who have let me into their trust.

gapingvoid1And what of Hugh MacLeod? Well, I have yet to meet him so, for now, one of his limited edition prints above the toilet will have to suffice.

Still full of (shit) ideas,

This blog post first appeared on the ←This Much We Know.→ blog.