Evangelizing Distributed Leadership
Distributed leadership is still a new concept, even though it sometimes seems that most of what we do is
building robust and resilient communities of like-minded individuals that are willing to be engaged in the value creation process, even though we do not control them through contract or the muzzle of a gun.
Think new corporate governance strategies, the millenial workplace, enterprise 2.0, collaborative strategizing, municipal participatory budgeting, user-centric design processes, open source software development, UN multi-stakeholder processes, etc.
The first challenge for successful distributed leadership is to see the loss of control over open processes as an opportunity not a threat. “There’s this interesting tension between the value of having contributed information versus a clear loss of control over the process,” says Eric Kansa, executive director of the information and service design program at the University of California, Berkeley. Open processes allow us to leverage not only the wisdom of the crowds, increase our legitimacy by outsourcing accountability to the interested public, but also increase capacity massively. The only comparable historical management reform that comes to mind is Napoleon’s idea of the levee en masse, moving from expensive hired guns (mercenaries) to a citizen army of Frenchmen proud to fight and die for their country.
The second is to ignore the political realities of the hierarchy, specifically, middle management. Middle managers fear whatever flattens the organizational structure and makes them superfluous. A response to one of the top evangelists of the Intellipedia project in the intelligence community by a staff member: â€œ ‘I don’t need top cover, I need middle cover. I need someone to convince my manager this is something we need to do.’ “
The third challenge is to change organizational culture. There is no way around it: open processes are different and counter-intuitive: Sharing information increases your power, giving up control increases your capacity, giving up the ability to control your image (transparency) increases legitimacy. As the head evangelist of intellipedia says, “There’s a reason this is called disruptive technology. These are counter-cultural concepts, which can be very daunting.”
It is not easy, but it can be done. And the payoffs will be huge â€“ think of the impact Napoleon had on today’s Europe.