A time for Post-Heroic Leadership

July 20, 2010

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Being a heroic leader meant knowing it all. (…) Post-heroic leaders have the humility to recognize that the world is too complex for any one person to know very much (…)  Too many managers base their confidence on their ability to generate solutions and make decisions. I try to get them to shift the basis of their confidence to the ability to facilitate decision making by asking team members what they think.

This is Mitch McCrimmon commenting a great blog post by Robert Sutton (from Standford University) : Great bosses are confident but not really sure.

The bottom line of Robert Sutton article : being confident as a leader inspire confidence amongst the people you’re working with. But leaders need to have the humility to realize that they might be wrong, and must be prepared to change the beliefs and actions when better information comes along.

Would confidence and humility be the basic qualities of modern leaders ?

Would technology have made our era a post-heroic one ?

(Disclosure : based on a seminal article exposing leadership core principles Hypertextual strongly believe in, this post acts more as a router towards different Hypertextual Enterprise 2.0 articles than an actual essay on a given idea)

Mitch comment refers to quite a visionary (1994 !) article by John Huey from Fortune Magazine : The New Post-Heroic Leadership

As the power of position continues to erode, corporate leaders face two fundamental tasks : first, to develop and articulate exactly what the company is trying to accomplish, and second, to create an environment in which employees can figure out what needs to be done and then do it well. (…) Post-heroic leaders don’t expect to solve all the problems themselves. They realize no one person can deal with the emerging and colliding tyrannies of speed, quality, customer satisfaction, innovation, diversity, and technology.

Say no to Ego

The Fortune Magazine article goes on like this :

Virtual leaders just say no to their egos. They are confident enough in their vision to delegate true responsibility (…) They are leaders, not managers. (…) Management comprises activities that keep an organization running, and it tends to work well through hierarchy. Leadership involves getting things started and facilitating change.

This brings us back to a) the Egoless Knowledge Worker as a behavior pattern to succeed in a highly collaborative environment and b) the need in an interconnected world to encourage leadership over control.

Technology has changed the nature of power

Last but not least, another excerpt from this 1994 article :

When companies derive their competitive advantage from creating intellectual capital, from attracting and developing knowledge workers, explains Warren Bennis,  whips and chains are no longer an alternative. Leaders must learn to change the nature of power and how it’s employed.” If they don’t, technology will.

Social Networks are getting into the enterprise and indeed, technology has now changed the nature of power. This is the end of office politics.

These social computing tools change the way business is being made. They should not be seen as facilitator of existing processes, even if that probably is the most pragmatic way to implement them into the enterprise without scaring the C-suite out.

Rather than seeing management evolution as a consequence of technology evolution, we might as well say that thanks to Enterprise Social Networks (ESN), technology is catching up with alternative methods of management. ESN provide an electronic framework to turn Management into Douglas McGregor Theory Y types. They help setting up a management environment which is the one WL Gore put in place in the sixties or Cisco in the 90s.

They provide the technology infrastructure for liberating leadership. It is fascinating to see how Generation Y leadership has naturally integrated these tools, principles and underlying culture.

Fostering H.E.R.O rather than pretending being one

The genuine leader facilitates the change and empowers the collaborators so that they become H.E.R.O themselves as Josh Bernosh and Ted Schadler (both from Forrester) explain into this Harvard Business Review article : Empowered.

H.E.R.O stands for Highly Empowered and Resourceful Operative. It identifies employees who leverage new technologies to innovate within the company.

The challenge is to encourage HERO driven innovation without bringing chaos. It is based on three principles :

  1. HERO agree to innovate within a safe framework.
  2. Managers encourage innovation and manage risk
  3. IT agrees to support and scale up HERO initiatives.

What I like with this framework is that it puts enterprise emergent social platforms where they belong : at the core of the enterprise innovation process. Besides, it puts the usual suspects against bottom-up innovation (Managers and IT) into the pictures with clearly identified roles and responsibilities.

The article example of Twelpforce at Best Buy (a twitter base support solution) is quite telling on how successful bottom-up emergent solutions can be when employee engagement is exponentially leveraged by social networks.

Questioning the post-heroic leader

10 questions for you, beloved readers, to find out how much of a post-heroic leader you are :

  1. Are you okay with saying I don’t know openly with your team or your peers ?
  2. Are you comfortable with the idea of not knowing it all ? Knowing less than people you are managing ?
  3. Do you take informed decisions based on your collaborators inputs and taking responsibility over these decisions ?
  4. Are you humble enough to change the direction if you happen to realize previous decisions were incorrect and admit it ?
  5. Do you  encourage your people to come up with ideas/solutions and make them H.E.R.O’s ?
  6. Are you confident enough to delegate true responsibility ?
  7. Are you relentless enough to develop and articulate what you are trying to accomplish ? To create an environment for people to engage ?
  8. Do you treat everybody in the company intrinsically equal ?
  9. Do you speak the same way to people regardless of their hierarchical position ?
  10. Are you post-heroic enough to act as a liberating leader ?

In an interconnected world where managers are bombarded with information and where the level of complexity is exponential, is there another way of being a charismatic, trustful, reliable, and efficient leader ?

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11 Responses to “A time for Post-Heroic Leadership”

  1. Jon Husband Says:

    “Networks make organizational politics and culture explicit” … Michael Schrage, MIT

  2. ceciiil Says:

    Hi Jon,

    Thanks for this great quote.

    I am afraid I have to agree 100% with you. I am not such a great conversation partner …


  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jon Husband and Benjamin Pelletier, cecil dijoux. cecil dijoux said: new #hypertextual post : A time for post-heroic leadership http://wp.me/p58hh-Lv […]


  4. […] Original post: A time for Post-Heroic Leadership « hypertextual […]


  5. […] link: A time for Post-Heroic Leadership « hypertextual If you enjoyed this article, please consider sharing it! Tagged with: esn • […]


  6. […] A time for Post-Heroic Leadership « hypertextual might-as-well, social, social-networks, […]

  7. ceciiil Says:

    Actually, thinking about it I don’t fully agree.

    1- What I strongly believe in : Enterprise Social Networks help capturing knowledge as they allow easy and informal knowledge capture.

    2- By doing so, they help transforming much more tacit enterprise information into explicit.

    3- Having more enterprise information being explicit and searchable, the whole culture becomes far more explicit.

    4- The culture becoming explicit as opposed to tacit, time gets tough for politics (which is not comfortable with explicit and transparency).

    My take would then be : Enterprise Social Networks make the knowledge and the culture explicit while making the politics difficult.

  8. Jon Husband Says:

    … while making the politics difficult

    Exactly ! Hence the importance of a new organizing principle, a new mind-set and philosophy for leading & managing in an increasingly densely-networked environment.

    Yje ‘social dynamics’ of an organization, supported by its culture, is based on, reinforced, and (often) struggling with 50+ years’ build-up / accumulation of assumptions that may not fit well with the flows and activity of networks.

    Politics, as we call it, inside organizations is a critical issue, and a determiner of cultural characteristics. More and more often we see the effects of the ‘publicness’ of online activity, as well as the persistent memory available, in the reports of scandals, deals, etc. whether in global / national / regional politics, business, entertainment, etc.

    Transparency is tough, and in many ways raises / sharpens the game for leaders and managers … as you have been explaining to us.

    • Jon Husband Says:

      Yje should be The

      • ceciiil Says:

        Thanks for that, Jon.

        Here is Hypertextual principle proposal : leave the Ego at home.

        More and more people go towards and enterprise 2.0 definition as a brain connector.

        Ego, social status (i.e granted power as opposed to earned power), politics, etc .. they all bring noise disturbing the signal and altering the seamless and fluidity connected brains in e20 environment.


  9. […] erreur. La recette est totalement épuisée, et parfaitement inadaptée. Le temps est venu d’un leadership post-héroïque […]


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