Leading in an increasingly networked world, personal notes


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There are a lot of books and research studies coming up about leading in the new reality & future. The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion by John Hagel & co, Reorganize for Resilience: Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business by Ranjay Gulati are a few examples, Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead by Charlene Li, The Hyper-Social Organization: Eclipse Your Competition by Leveraging Social Media by Francois Gossieaux & Ed Moran are a few examples. Thought I would share some of my own thoughts from my experiences, observations, readings & learnings.

Within a traditional organization with hierarchies, many (most?) managers tend to use their positional power to get things done from others rather than influence/motivate/collaborate with them to get the tasks done. Did you just say “What? Collaborate with my subordinates? They better do what is assigned to them.”, welcome to the flux! 🙂

The later becomes more pronounced in matrix organizations where a person could be reporting into multiple people. Matrix organizations were built to break the silos & be able to be more innovative & responsive to the market.

Futurists keep talking about flat organizations – an hierarchy-less anarchy for the traditionalists. Most of the discussions I have come across about a flat organization is built around two loci:

  • better collaboration within the organization to be more response & innovative – ever heard the “real time is not fast enough” mantra, its in vogue of late?
  • because the millennials cannot be bothered with hierarchy

I do not think we will see the breakdown of hierarchies en masse automagically in the next 5-10 years nor will the silos dissolve away completely, the jingoism & rhetorics of the hyperbole spewers not withstanding. Examples like Zappos will crop up now and then, but we need to understand, realize & accept that some modicum of hierarchy & silos will always be required. Zappos does have a CEO in Tony Hsieh.

Hierarchies & silos feed on expertise and specialization (respectively?), both of which are not stuff we can do away with. At least as long as humans cannot become jack of all trades and master of them too. However the times are a-changing.

The kind of rigid hierarchies & silos we see / have seen in the past two centuries were formed because of the coming of the new mega enterprises that was focused on mass production and mass marketing and pushing merchandise & services on to the consumers at very low costs. Need for innovation and staying ahead of the competition, etc. needed the creation of matrix organizations where specialists & experts from across the organizations came together for the duration of the projects they were entrusted. These teams would disband & regroup with a different set of people & a different set of goals/objectives & time lines.

Project Management became the need of the hour. So we saw general/departmental managers as well as project managers in organizations. These matrix structures are seen in the most feverishly innovating industries like the hi-tech, electronics & software. Or even the pharma industries where they are in an endless pursuit of the discovery of ever new molecules for fighting diseases which we did not even know existed a century ago.

However, the management style of the individuals – the general/departmental manager or the project manager – still belongs, for the most part, to the two categories I stated at the beginning of the post – positional, influential/motivational. Or a combination of the two, which might mean situational leadership qualities.

With the increase in the number of generation Y/millenials/digital natives (as opposed to digital migrants) people in the workforce and the virtualization of the workplace due to trends like work from home or outsourcing & offshoring, etc. the ability to leverage ones positional power diminishes. Positional power decreases as is in a matrix organization, outsourcing diminishes it even further. But enter crowdsourcing or open innovation, the positional power is for all practical purposes zero.

Linus Torvalds holds no positional power in the development of Linux kernel like the product managers at most software product companies like Microsoft, SAP, IBM, Oracle or any of the umpteen other software companies would. Linus influences the development heavily & motivates the developers. He is a god for most aspiring code contributors and many would gladly die on his behalf in the notorious flame wars rampant in the open source communities where fights (debates) erupt around very technical nitty-gritties. But then again, even Linus would have to convince everybody of the technical soundness of his approach/thoughts to muster support.

Take heart, this is not going to be the immediate future for all of you. Generally speaking, the more innovative you are or want to be, the more matrix or flatter your organization is or going to be.

There are a few skills that you could leverage irrespective of whether you are going to end up in a matrix or flat organization:

  • Share your knowledge. And not just you, encourage your teams & networks to do so too. Knowledge is the only wealth that grows when you distribute it, both for the provider as well as the receiver. Think about it. Its an age old saying in India, but true nonetheless.
  • Resuse. Do not fall into the “not invented here” syndrome or be delusional in thinking you will get more brownie points, from whoever you long to get them, if you are able to build stuff from the ground up. Its inefficient, wastes time and money. Surely you have heard about not having to reinvent the wheel? Well of course we are assuming here that people have been encouraged to share and thus a body of work & knowledge is already available for you to tap into.
  • Mentor and reverse mentor. Coach your subordinates or people in your network who are not at the same expertise level as you. It need not be a specialty, which might actually require training not mere coaching. At the same time, be open to newer ideas and ways of working. Learn from the others in your team or network. They might be younger to you or lower in the corporate rungs. But they might still have expertise on some aspect that you might not, say effectively using the social media / social networking sites. Of course it presupposes the fact that you have surrounded yourself with people who have diverse expertise if not specialties as well as different way of looking at things than yours.

Are there any other traits you have found useful, effective or efficient? Please do share with us in the comments. 🙂

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Prem Kumar Aparanji
SCRM Evangelist @ Cognizant. Additional knowledge in BPM, QA, Innovations, Solutions, Offshoring from previous roles as developer, tester, consultant, manager. Interested in FLOSS, Social Media, Social Networks & Rice Writing. Love SF&F books. Blessed with a loving wife & a curious kid. :)


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