Evolution is about change over generations: about adaptation to suit the prevailing environment. It’s not a fast process, but it has an inevitability, and we all know what happens to the losers. Look back a hundred years and our view of leadership was one dimensional: leaders told others what to do.
Ingrained behaviours in class led societies, the legacy of Victorian era industrialisation, the rise of the new city states, where money and influence were ever more concentrated, these factors mitigated for strong leaders who gave orders and expected compliance.
So much has changed: the technology that forged the ploughshares continued to evolve, through steam engines, jet airplanes and iPhones. Increases in communication technology gave rise to greater social mobility: as we saw how the other half lived, we were free to aspire to emulate it. Mass production of cheap cultural artefacts led us all to fill our homes with plastic televisions and warehouse sofas: aspiration was now the foundation of change.
Latterly we’ve seen a continued evolution of the workplace, away from a space defined by four walls towards a connected environment existing entirely in the ether: ephemeral, defined by relationships, shared values, trust more than MDF desks and telephone systems. The telephones still play a vital role, but more as collaborative, communicative technology, and most likely to let you join a shared social space than a pure retro telephone call.
As the structure of our society has changed, as social dynamics have moved away from authoritarian models towards more socially collaborative ones, backed up by the speed, breadth and fluidity of communications, so the nature of leadership has changed too.
No longer purely authoritarian (although often needing to include elements of this), there is a more constructivist dimension: leadership created in the moment through consensus of the community. Leadership of it’s time: a time when communities enable us to be more effective, to create ever stronger meaning and share it ever more widely.
Yesterdays leaders may have been about bluster and orders, today’s are about curation, sharing, social capital and trust. Today’s successful leaders gain support through their communities and provide a light touch of leadership on decisions that are co-owned throughout the community.
Social Leadership is a style of leadership for the Social Age: a time when older, hierarchical, authoritarian, positional forms of leadership are losing traction. They are still there, but need bolstering by strength in social spaces.
There is still a need for authoritarian forms of power: the military and police rely on it, but it doesn’t have to preclude social power. Indeed, it can’t afford to. The failures in culture of the Metropolitan police highlight that older hierarchies are becoming irrelevant, unable to deliver the leadership needed for the Social Age. Unfair, unjust, unequal.
Military planners require thinking soldiers: individuals able to reframe and adapt thought and action in response to rapidly evolving tactical situations, situations often enhanced by technology and the need to communicate effectively. They need hierarchy and control, but also fluidity and open mindsets that allow agile learning and action.
Failed cultures in financial services have shown the need for newer styles of leadership: ones that are socially responsible and fair, ones that are suited for the new ecosystem of the Social Age. Older, vertical, unequal balances of power and authority have led to inequality and the disenfranchisement of large parts of the organisation: redressing this requires a fundamental shift in our views of authority and regulation, ownership and change. Social Leadership, consensual and moderated by the community (both the internal community and the wider stakeholders in society) can deliver this. It’s not a replacement for formal models of authority: it takes them and builds in a social element.
Social Leadership looks at three core dimensions: ‘narrative‘, where we take our stance and curate our space, developing the storytelling skills that let us share our messages and make us effective within communities. ‘Engagement‘ is about our ability to identify our communities and make us effective within them: it’s about building reputational authority over time. ‘Technology‘ is about fairness, about opportunity, about building social capital and truly collaborating to drive change.
Evolution is a slow process, but ignore the ways that the ecosystem is changing and we slowly lose tough with the prevailing reality. We’re fourteen years into the 21st century, well past the time for change: organisations need to foster a collaborative mindset, to build spaces for creativity and innovation and learn to change graciously and effectively. This is the time for Social Leadership.