On Leadership: Orchestrating for the 21st Century
Nearly 20 years ago, Meghan Messenger joined Nextjump which administers loyalty programs for some of the biggest companies in the world. Her journey has taken her from a local sales intern up the ranks to Co-CEO of the company. Even more impressively, Messenger is a thoughtful leader who in her willingness to be bold, inspires others to follow suit.
The command and control style of leadership popular in the industrial era has been flipped on its head in real time. A fresh style, more suited to the networked world is replacing it. Today’s workers want to bring their entire selves to the office, not just their professional identities. In an increasingly collaborative economy playing nicely with others is just a whole lot richer when a worker is at her best.
This big shift begs different modes of management that are premised first and foremost on trust:
The Teacher empowers employees to continuously grow within the business. The Learner embraces change and is open to testing out, and learning from new ways of working. The Mobilizer senses and responds to organizational needs and facilitates vital change. The Giver plays the long game putting others before themselves.
The business leaders of tomorrow will not be seen as bosses. They will be more akin to teachers who are educating their employees. Their chief skill is to act as role models that make their employees feel like students. Top leaders will champion continuous learning and feedback to advance individual growth and organizational progress. Celebrated four-star general, Stanley McChrystal, says it best: the interplay between leaders and their teams is a case of ‘Eyes on, hands off.’
With an integrated approach founded upon transparency and knowledge sharing - strong leaders are distributing authority to their teams. As the organizational benefits of this enabling practice become evident, it sets an example for other managers to follow.
This leadership style equates to a different kind of measurement on results as: a return on trust. Instilled with authority and treated as competent professionals, employees then become accountable, empowered and engaged.
Organizational designer at the Ready, Tim Cassola, helps fortune 500 leaders adapt to the new world of work. He explains, “It’s easy to fall into an outsider mindset...but I remind myself I am not the person with all the answers, I’m just someone that’s there to help them facilitate a change - that is a change they know how to solve better than I do.”
Increasingly, in-house leaders will need to smoothly flip their mindset from teacher to learner. In so doing, they become versatile facilitators themselves and pull the right resources together at the right time from across departments. High performing leaders will have the wherewithal to take action based on continuous learning that will benefit the entire organization.
In the new school of leadership - skills development is encouraged and teamwork is inspired. As self-direction in the workplace becomes increasingly prevalent - leaders will have to master new types of expertise on the fly and be able to routinely deliver results within increasingly complex systems and ambiguous circumstances.
With a hunger to explore new opportunities, a cognitive ability to absorb them, and a knack for taking decisive action - the leader as learner applies new knowledge to help the organization prosper.
The 21st century leader makes decisions based on an informed point of view and not merely to exude power. Since organizational antennas can sense information from across the business, it’s the leader’s duty to respond with enlightened choices that have the knock on effect of mobilizing teams.
Paul O’Neill was a fresh eyed CEO of industrial conglomerate Alcoa when he made a bold decision to focus on just one thing: safety. O’Neill believed that focusing on this keystone habit would cause a domino effect across the organization.
Employees who regularly shared information about worker safety, gradually started sharing all sorts of other information including ways to boost efficiency and productivity. Since everyone at Alcoa was empowered to share ideas, it became one of the first companies to use an intranet - catapulting it light years ahead of its competitors.
O’Neill’s safety culture had the profound impact of completely transforming the business. While O’Neill was running the show, Alcoa witnessed a 5x increase in net income and $27 billion in market capitalization.
Soft spoken, selfless, a big collaborator and all round nice guy. These are not the characteristics you’d typically expect of someone at the helm of one of the world’s largest companies. Yet that’s exactly what Sundar Pachai is known for as the CEO of Google. His management style is pretty darn simple: helping others succeed. Pachai is a Giver who is thriving in the new economy.
Abraham Lincoln was a Giver. He set ego aside, appointing his bitter opponents to the Cabinet knowing this would best serve American citizens. Lincoln was renown for putting the interest of others before his own. Organizational psychologist Adam Grant explains that in stark contrast to Takers, when Givers succeed, something extraordinary happens: “It spreads and cascades.”
Givers play the long game. While Takers might win 100 meter sprints, Givers win gold in marathons. Leaders who are Givers galvanize employees and assure their successes are intertwined.
The question every leader should be asking is how can I best support my teams in doing their work? Thinking this way and being able to fluidly interchange between these four leadership modes as and when necessary, will build internal capabilities that make creativity and innovation flourish.
When Meghan Messenger had her second child she knew a change was necessary in order to be a great mom. As a loyal partner at Nextjump, it wouldn’t make sense for her to go part-time. What might just work however, was enabling everybody else in the organization to become owners. That meant everyone would be accountable for both the company’s revenue and its culture. By virtue, every worker would have to become a leader.
Messenger and her Co-CEO created a pioneering culture of trust. Nextjump is not so much in the e-commerce business now as it is in the leadership one. It has been recognised and awarded for its ability to help others foster an everyone culture. A business that once nearly went bankrupt in the dotcom crash has significantly jumped in revenue since it shifted to this practice of networked leadership. The firm generates over $2 Billion a year and is showing no signs of slowing down. Most of all, after a visit to their London headquarters, it is clear that everyone brings their best selves to work.
This new type of leadership means delicately balancing people, purpose and production. Lasting success is achieved through collective ownership and enduring impact. ‘Winning’ means open innovation that results in a victory shared throughout the organization.
Weather one views themselves a leader today or becomes one tomorrow, these four modes will help cultivate an inspired, empowered and engaged workforce. Inevitably, future archaeologists will ponder our once cherished autocratic leadership practices. In their place will live this new form of management that champions transparency and trust.
It’s really going to be a thing of beauty.