By Mitch McCrimmon
In an age of escalating uncertainty, the idea that leadership means being in charge of a group is obsolete. Rapid change and innovation require a less static, hierarchical concept of leadership. Wherever success depends on a diversity of ideas, leadership becomes fragmented into discrete impacts, no longer an ongoing role.
Being in charge of a group means having the authority to call the shots which, in turn, requires knowing what needs to be done. But a vision is only possible if the leader knows where the group should go. As uncertainty rises, we turn increasingly to the "wisdom of the crowd" for leadership. The power of knowledge, now fragmented, resides in diversity rather than in the individual sage. Leadership is radically dispersed wherever complexity reigns.
When leadership emerges in a crowd, it is not about one person rising to the top but rather a hundred voices each having small, one-off impacts on the crowd's ultimate decision. This is postmodernism: no ultimate authorities, fragmentation, everyone's voice gets a hearing.
Why bother? Businesses that need innovation to survive defeat themselves by positioning leadership as a top-down function. This fosters dependency and stifles the creative thinking of knowledge workers with the potential to show leadership bottom-up. Such leadership is not about taking charge of one's boss. Rather, it simply means influencing a change in direction. Implementation, a separate step, can be managed by those in charge.