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Leaders Face New Challenges in a Networked World

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, February 13, 2014

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.

"We 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 equal platform."

Dr. 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."

The 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.

So 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 risks.

Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  leaders  leadership  networks 

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