The language of leadership often reflects hierarchy and elaborates distinctions between leaders and followers. The "great man" theory of history proposed by nineteenth century philosopher Thomas Carlisle
still offers an appealing view of extraordinary men and women shaping
and moving events through their own personal strength and charisma.
Scholar and author Mila Baker, PhD,
argues one of the most profound social shifts in recent years has been
erosion of individual power and the rise of collective power enabled by
technology and social media.
need a mindset and language of leadership that maintains equilibrium
between leading and following-a conception of leadership that is agile
and stateless in its composition," she writes in her new book Peer to Peer Leadership: Why the Network is the Leader.
"Like the U.S. Constitution guides and influences the nation's
trajectory without stifling the rights and freedoms of its populace,
organizations' design needs to facilitate leading and following on an
Baker isn't saying CEOs have no role. She is saying today's changing
business world requires them to adopt new thinking and behavior. In the
architecture of a peer to peer network
community, every computer-or electronic device-represents a node. The
network connects people and provides instant flow of information. All
nodes within the network are equal participants in a larger whole, a
concept Dr. Baker calls equipotency. Electronic technology is no longer
just a tool in organizations. It changes the way we relate to one
another. It enables information to be sent and received among peers
working toward a common goal. Everyone leads and everyone follows. Dr.
Baker tells of her own experience working in a psychiatric emergency room.
Each individual had an equal opportunity to contribute, which was not
defined by an individuals' role or position, but the need of the moment.
"We shared power and authority-we followed and gave orders as
necessary," she writes, all respecting each other's commitment to the
wellbeing of patients. "In general, she says, "equipotency blurs the
line between leader and follower, and at the same time clarifies the
overall purpose within groups and organizations."
dynamic action needed to respond to a situation, she says, "occurs at
the intersection of art and science." That's the relational dynamic that
develops within a network when all perspectives are heard, integrated
and accounted for. The network becomes the leader, Dr. Baker writes,
because actions are based on a consensus of needs.
what is the paradigm for new leadership? Dr. Baker says leadership can
only be demonstrated in the context of a relational dynamic. She
describes leadership as a "dyad exchange structure." She says this kind
of leadership is shown by "the catalytic action that occurs in the
relational dynamic between two individuals working together toward a
common goal." In organizations that have successfully evolved away from
the Industrial Age individual-centered command and control model, dyad
exchange structures will connect nodes-people-for the purpose of
resolving polarities and innovating. Dr. Baker says these structures
will strengthen the bonds among people, enable the network to do its
work, and allow us to embrace technology "as an extension of our
capacity to evolve as humans in a connected world." The connected world
means we need to move beyond the idea that leadership is limited to
individuals, and that information should flow mainly from boss to
subordinate. Networked information in organizations means more openness
and more agility. Hazards associated with increased openness can be
mitigated by technology that quickly uncovers patterns and identifies