I recently attended a meeting of our local chapter of the American Society for Quality (ASQ) and as is often the case I was inspired by the guest speaker, this time a gentleman named James Strock. His presentation was on 21st century leadership and how it does differ from the skills and experience required, say, centuries ago.
I jotted down some notes and I’ll share them here as bullet points rather than write up an entire treatise on his work. However, some of the speculation is my interpretation/extrapolation and not necessarily what the speaker said verbatim:
- Visibility and transparency are the inescapable “gotchas” of the era. Old guard leaders still in positions of power don’t get this yet. Virtual career-sucking mosquitoes like MySpace and Facebook and YouTube hover around every public official these days, waiting to feed on some juicy story that mere decades ago could have been buried without fanfare. This works against the rank-and-file, too; venom-laden discussions about touchy subjects like religion and politics can negatively influence potential hiring managers and anyone else upon whom we may come to rely.
- Who you are and what you do is connected like never before. That realization struck me a few years ago when I started my LinkedIn profile. The distinction between work and the person is rapidly eroding. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing IF we align our work goals with our personal interests, something I did over 20 years ago. Currently 26% of the American professional workforce is said to be a contractor or consultant of some type and that percentage will only go up. In that world, you are what you work.
- Transactional modes of business dealings are becoming obsolete. They are being rapidly replaced by relational modes, where soft skills can be more crucial than more concrete attributes of the past. In this sort of scenario the coordinators, facilitators and cross-functional liaison types take on increased importance so as to break down decades of specialized silo building.
- The internet is transforming the very nature of personal relationships. Before 1995, face-to-face relationships were the natural default. Flash forward ten years, and we could easily see that the world wide web was supplanting physical dealings in many ways. Some decried this, and I was one of them, but now I realize we are in the midst of a transition and that the internet is changing the way we relate in person, not completely replacing it. Coalitions that previously relied on physical proximity are ceding to virtual groups that in turn can act as a driving force for travel and even relocation for many people. Whether this works for societies in toto or serves to ensure the proliferation of highly polarized microsocieties remains to be seen.
- The new followers are voluntary. Forget the age of conscription. New communication modes like jaiku and twitter (I am on both as Texrat but am bad about participating lately) encourage people to choose their virtual guides and leaders without coercion.
The latter point supports the premise of James’ upcoming book, “Serving to Lead”. Based on his stimulating speech, I can’t wait to check it out.