Leaderships means giving up control

In this article I explain my vision on leadership in the digital area of the 21st century and how leaders are essential for creating an environment where everyone feels equal and wants to follow the leader because they stand behind the same vision.

In this week lecture our group had a workshop on resilient leadership and what that means in our eyes. According to Roselinde Torres many companies do not succeed in delivering successful leaders, while the investments in leadership are growing. The image of a leader as a superman who protects the company and makes all the important decisions is outdated. In the 21ste century, hierarchy as invented in the industrial revolution to increase efficiency does not fit the digital area where innovation and change happens at the bottom of the organization. Charlene Li surprised me with her contradictory, but inspirational observation that - Leadership in the digital area, means giving up control.

Charlene Li compares leadership to parenting. ‘People who successfully parent their teenagers into adulthood, eventually say to them: I know you can do this now on your own’. When in a digital age, change and innovation no longer happens at the top of the organization, leaders need to trust that their employees are able to make good decisions. In order for this to happen you need engaged employees. At the moment, only 13% of people are engaged in their work. How do you create an environment where you feel confident enough to let go control?

Charlene Li offers three fundamental principles in creating such an environment. The first principle is to create a culture of sharing. Employees need two way non-hierarchal conversations to gather information to base their decisions on. The second principle is to practice followership by engaging people in projects and create a network of followers. The third principle is how you use your network to make meaningful decisions. Collaboration platforms where you listen to your employees on how to improve your organization are important to create engaged employees.

Her talk made me aware that the attitude of leaders determines everything for the creation of innovation. Leaders must shape an environment where employees feel as equals and managers become facilitators. Power does not come from being in control, but from people who voluntary follow you because of your vision and who you are as a person. I believe that is why Phoneblocks of Dave Hakkens has become such a powerful movement, that google is now actually working to make this innovation happen. For the greater good to make sustainability happen, we need open innovation and collaboration without the fear that someone will steal our ideas. Ideas get a thousand times better, once shared since the idea is improved from different perspectives. We need transparency, so everyone can join and help us to solve challenges. Luckily this actually fits the idea of the digital area where information rapidly can reach the whole world. I believe that competition between companies and mass production has gotten us into problems concerning sustainability. Although competition often drives companies to design better products, I believe that for sustainability it limits growth. Change is not happening fast enough, because of secrecy.  As Einstein said, "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." For sustainability to be implemented we need to create a transparent and collaborative environment, where it is not about individuals but communities to succeed. After all the world is from us whole and we can only fix this together. In my eyes: Leadership means starting a relay, where you feel confident that your team will win through all the individual efforts. 

Cheyenne Schuit