Leading without a title

It has been suggested that flattening and more democratic organizations are the future, and if that is the case it will have direct impact on how we think about leadership. Employees can no longer solely rely on their managers to show the way. If a firm with a flat structure is to excel, everyone will have to lead. This acknowledgment is starting to gain momentum. Robin Sharma is the founder of a leadership consulting firm with the simple mission of helping people in organizations lead without a title. He calls it leadership v.02. Sharma has already got many of the fortune 500 companies on his client list, as it seems like businesses are moving towards the trend of letting people lead from wherever they are in the organization.

Through a couple of the cases we have been discussing this semester, this trend is becoming visible. The Taj Hotels encouraged their employees to think outside of the box, not to follow the book and to take individual decisions in every situation. This is a very clear example of employees acting as their own leaders. The benefits for the hotel were motivated employees who took charge, instead of passive waiters who waited for orders. Similarly, the Haier case showed a new approach to management, with every team completely responsible for their results. This also encourages innovation. If every team is acting like a separate unit trying to maximize their results, the best-practice approach in choosing the best from every unit can boost value. I remember a work shop with Google, where they told us that they don’t have one single R&D unit. If every employee was encouraged to lead, innovate and make decisions, the cumulated innovation would be way beyond what an R&D branch could achieve. Indeed, this is how major successes such as Google Maps, Gmail, Google Art Project and Google Book Project got invented.

Does this mean that a firm should have hundreds of employees trying to act a CEO with their own view of how the company really should be run? Of course not, that would have created a complete chaos. Showing leadership can be done at every level of the organization as long as employees know their roles and then adapt to that role like a leader would. This would spark a self-sustaining company, not dependent on a very small group of managers at the top end of the firm.

The world’s best tennis player the last couple of years, Novak Djokovic said after winning a dead close match: “Tennis is mostly a mental game. Everyone has got good forehands. Everyone is fit”. This can be useful to think of in the business world as well. Consider the case of big consultant firms. They all have fairly skilled employees from high regarded universities, and they all know how to solve complex cases. One of the differences must lay in how leadership is present: to which degree will consultants feel responsibility and care about the outcome of the case, and are they allowed to pursue the path they feel will bring about the best results. It may seem like the best firms have a different approach to leadership.

Further readings:
Many have probably heard of Robin Sharma’s best seller The Monk who sold his Ferrari. Sharma also offers a lot of resources on his webpage www.robinsharma.com, where his blog, podcast and video coaching are available for free.

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