Leadership has changed

For many years, leadership was viewed through a single prism. Leadership was defined by words such as "boss" or "supervisor"; words that clearly implied that the leader was "in charge," had a vision, told people what to do, and then checked to make sure they did it the way they were told. The classic name for this type of leadership is "command-and-control." Leaders using this style of management have a clear responsibility to give direction, to tell people what needs to be done, and to manage conformity and compliance.

While there are a few (very few!) circumstances where this makes sense (more on this in a future post), I think in most ways this style of leadership is obsolete. It could have been useful back in the days when businesses didn't change all that much, when products were relatively static, and where the work that needed to be done was well-established and standardized. Under those conditions,  command-and-control made some sense. The person that was most knowledgeable about how a product was made or a service was delivered became the leader, and that person told everyone else how to do the work.

Those days have gone now. How many kinds of Chex are there on the grocery shelves today? (And are those new Peanut Butter Chex just amazing or what?) How have business communications changed in the last year? Does that well-documented supply chain still make sense?

And these kinds of frequent, even radical changes were dismissed as unique events even before the COVID virus came to town. Many people thought that Hurricane Katrina was a once-in-a-lifetime event. The banking crisis of 2008 was a unique event. How about the dot.com meltdown starting in 1999? Maybe these events are really business as usual.

COVID has ramped up the impact of change even more:  The office is closed, please now work from home!  Telemedicine, your appointment is today at this Zoom link!  We're hiring people who live in the woods of Minnesota, even though our offices are in California!

Any manager who thinks they know the best ways and practices for how works gets done these days is delusional. Instead, we live in a world where experimentation is essential, where openness to new ideas is the cost of admission, and where people on your team need your support and coaching, not your probably-counterproductive-advice and direction.

What's a leader to do?

I advocate that 21st century leaders need to abandon that old-fashioned 20th-century skillset and build out a full toolset of 21st century leadership tools. Much work has been done in behavioral psychology and neurophysiology to give us a much better understanding of how people are motivated and do their best work. Leading edge organizations have experimented with innovative new organizational and operational models that make people happier and deliver better results.

It's time to  get onboard with the change. Learn about these new approaches to leadership and use them with your team. You'll see the results.

Dale Rebhorn

Dale Rebhorn

Dale Rebhorn is a teacher and student of leadership.
Madison, Wisconsin, USA