1 May 2006

Evolutionary Leadership - Leadership 3.0

This past week, I had to the honor to contribute to the development of a proposal for a center for leadership - a joint project between an American university and a global technology client. From my experience working with management teams and Boards, I found it easy to create the context for this proposal. Perhaps this contextual perspective was my unique contribution.

Leaders today face a world where strategy and value play a greater role than ever before. They need insight into evolving business models triggered by paradigm shifts in technology that have affected every area of life. The internet has released a knowledge revolution that has triggered another revolution - how we create and sustain value. This has happened in such a short timeline that leaders are struggling to find the coping strategies needed to explore how to deal with this phenomenon.

Life is a journey, not a destination. Leadership is much the same. When we take on the responsibility to lead others, we must learn to serve our constituency - much like the government statesmen of days gone by - by clearing the path forward to generate the expected value needed to grow and sustain a prosperous life in the context of all the conditions and contradictions that face us.

In the 21st century, we must learn statesmanship, how to steer our business constituency through a dynamic, ever-changing, multi-cultural world. This requires a different strategy than the typical political style adopted by many business leaders in the 20th century. Why? We are no longer followers. We are no longer consumers in target-groups, waiting for companies to tell us what to buy and pushing their products at us through broadcast channels. Our collective and individual role as consumer is evolving into our collective and individual role as citizen in numerous community contexts created online and off. This requires a different kind of approach in leadership to truly connect with us. It requires an understanding of community.

What does it mean to be a leader today?

How do we evolve our role as a leader? First, we have to re-think value creation. We have to realize that value creation is more than the exclusive bottom-line focus and generating shareholder value. What does that really mean? If we have traditionally focused on squeezing the most out of consumers, how can we create value in a new ways that are more inclusive of all levels of capital creation? These are the kinds of questions that open new discussions and lead to the kind of dialogue necessary to evolve our leadership roles. There are no fixed answers.

As in a journey, evolutionary leadership is about discovery - and creating value at every step along the way. It's about people and culture and the unexpected value that comes from engagement and conversation.

As today’s leaders, we have to face the task of managing expectations on this level that world leaders like Churchill and Ghandi faced at a different transitional moments in time. The Internet has given us a global reach and with it, the responsibilities to lead social as well as economic development. We cannot change the course of this direction. We cannot continue to prepare leaders with skills that serve the past. Leaders need skills that serve the present and the future. We need to broaden the scope of our dialogue to include people in community with one another, and not just as consumers in a sellers market. Different game, different context, different focus, different requirements, different expectations.

What are you doing to create value in new ways in the context of people as citizens and not just consumers? How do we establish the new value parameters as we transit from an economy driven by money as the major currency of trade into an economy driven by knowledge as the currency of trade? What is the real identity supporting this new face of business? What is the identity of the new leaders today? Until we figure this out, we don’t know how to engage. We also don’t know whom to follow. How do we develop strategies to cope with this fast speed of change?

The impact of this means we have to focus on the health, education and welfare of our citizens and not just on those who can afford to buy something. Knowledge as currency changes everything. Knowledge as currency changes the whole game.

Could it be that each of us becomes responsible to become an evolutionary leader in each of own communities, sharing our expertise and opening a new kind of dialogue?

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