The future of leadership is not its past. Complexity and dynamism are forcing our world to change. Many organizations and nations will not survive.
Two of my African colleagues have commented to me recently about their optimism for the future of their continent. One told me that 70% of Africa is now under 30 years of age. The other said that by the year 2050, there will be one billion people in Africa under the age of 25.
As I try to make sense of what these numbers mean for the future of Africa and the world, I realized that it points to a dramatic change in how we develop and deploy leaders. Not only how we develop them, but the kind of organizations that they will be willing to work in. This is a discussion that we need to have.
When people solve their own problems, they also gain skills in communication, collaboration, and innovation. All are leadership skills that everyone needs to acquire regardless of the position that they have in the organization. What, then, is the impact of this approach to leadership. In simple terms, it moves an organization from being leadership starved to being leader-rich. More definitively, it decentralizes the capacity of an organization to solve its problems. I saw this effect in an organization that I served many years ago. Small problems flowed up through the hierarchy to the vice-president’s desk. By then a problem had turned into an issue between the company and the union. When the company implemented a program to train and support all their employees in practicing these leadership skills, the trust level in the company grew, ultimately gaining the awareness of Forbes magazine in their annual list of most trustworthy companies. This is the potential that results from elevating the leadership capacity of people.
“You only have power over people as long as you don’t take everything away from them. But when you’ve robbed a man of everything, he’s no longer in your power–he’s free again.”
– In The First Circle, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn
We live in a world that is in transition.
One of the most significant transitions that we are experiencing is in the nature of leadership.
It used to be that leadership was reserved for the person who was the head of an organization. We knew who the leader was because he or she had a title that defined their role as the leader of the organization.
Since there are only a few leaders, it means everyone else is a follower.
The Relationship between Leaders and Followers is Changing
The relation between leading and following is in transition.
It once was true that great leaders had great followers. However, over time, as the world has changed, we are far more aware of what our leaders are really like. The issue for the follower is ‘Do I trust the leader?’. For leaders, the question is ‘Do I respect the follower?’
Entering a world that is dramatically different than my own, as I did in going to Africa, things stand out. Traveling in the rural areas, seeing motorbikes used to haul goods. Harvested agriculture products spread on the ground beside the highway ready to be loaded to be taken to market. People living in extreme poverty. Visiting a hundred-year-old man, who was homeless because he had outlived his family, showed me the power of local communities to mitigate the effects of poverty. Through these experiences, and more, the Two Global Forces took on a deeper, richer meaning.