Todays post is a #WorkingOutLoud reflection around the design of a workshop i’m running tomorrow. I’m prototyping a few new ideas and activities, within this session, which is aimed at Execs in businesses who are trying to understand and adapt to the realities of the Social Age. I think i’ll start with an exercise about ‘The Tallest Leader’, which explores the differences between formal and social systems.
Ask people to line up, with the tallest at one end and shortest at the other, and it’s a reasonably easy exercise: aside from some debate about whether high heels count, or haircuts, you can generally shuffle about, look at the people next to you, and find your place.
Once you have your vertically segmented lineup, ask them to re-order in terms of who is the most senior person in the room.
It’s harder, especially if people come from multiple organisations, or no organisation at all. In general, there is conversation and confusion, and often an attempt to impose a scale: most senior in years, in job title, in educational qualification and so on. If people work in the same organisation, most often they fall to the reliable measure of the team structure.
Now ask them to re-order in terms of who is the best leader. Or the person who knows most about HR Law, or the person who innovates the most, or has the best ideas, or who helps other people the most.
It’s impossible, for a number of reasons: firstly, nobody wants to be at either end, and secondly, they may be held back by modesty, by uncertainty, by simply not realising that they are the expert in the room.
The point is this: the tallest leader is easy to quantify: the best leader is harder to find. And the expertise? It’s contextual, and distributed. The answer to ‘who is the best expert in the room’ is, of course, ‘the room’, or, in the language of the Social Age, ‘the community’.
Formal systems recognise formal expertise and quantifiable seniority. Social systems recognise tacit and embedded expertise and Social Leadership. What are the odds that the two systems along? Next to nothing. Which is why we need both formal and Social leadership within an organisation.