Leadership in a post-everything world [3 minutes reading time]

A thought that came to me today: a traditional way of leadership cannot navigate today’s post-everything world. It can backfire badly as the situation on the ground shifts fast.

A traditional leadership mode of operating is one with the following set of mental instructions and mindsets:

  • I have to be plugged into all of the right places. I fill up my calendar with meetings and stay on top of things, so I have access to all the relevant information.

  • Therefore, I have a clear picture and I use that picture to make decisions

  • And people that follow must execute those decisions

This is basically the legacy of Taylorism (I won’t link to it since it’s a dangerous bunny trail - a lot of the ideas seem intuitively right but break down in the field). As put by Bungay:

A manager was a programmer of robot workers. The essence of management was to create perfect plans and tell people precisely what to do and how to do it.

This mindset will break up in a chaotic, post-everything world. Hard to stay on top of all things. You can only know so much. The rules keep changing. People are not machines. And those who work like machines will soon be at risk to be automated.

If you lead a bunch of creative people with this mindset, they will rebel against your authority because they probably have a better perspective of a thing than you, the authority figure. Hence, rising currents of protest and conflict.

Maybe followers have seen some weak signals in the communities they are in. Maybe they have met someone who is an expert in a thing that you have failed to consider.

The authoritarian leader will then go down this route. They will see that people do not listen, so they will think: I should be more assertive and crack the whip even more. Why aren’t they listening to me?

This alienates followers even more.

Big systemic failure mode.

A post-everything leader is different.

As a post-everything leader, you will see authority as one of many skills in a leadership arsenal. But you will also:

  • encourage and empower people. You create environments where people have the psychological safety to act, to speak up and use their voice. You allow people to be playful. To unleash their creativity.

  • inspire people. You create an inspiring vision that people can rally around.

  • care about your crew. You make sure that the crew takes rest. You respect their boundaries.

  • challenge your crew and make sure that they consider the tough questions.

  • master sense-making. You create useful frames for the crew to think with (this is one example of such a frame). Other are things like: what is our unique selling point? What are our outputs? Who are our competitors? All of these give your crew powerful mental models to succeed.

  • communicate clearly and concisely

  • influence through a well-crafted narrative.

All of these and probably more are essential skills for a post-everything leader. Here’s some more adjacent thoughts:

A favourable situation will never be exploited if commanders wait for orders. The highest commander and the youngest soldier must be conscious of the fact that omission and inactivity are worse than resorting to the wrong expedient

Mission command

In a fast-changing unpredictable environment, organisations do not work like well-oiled machines. The winning players behave like organisms and are able to act more effective with less information than their rivals. An organisation of that type, the type we are searching for now, began to be developed more than 100 years before Taylor created the problem.

Trying to get results by directly taking charge of things at lower levels in the organisational hierarchy is dysfunctional, for a leader thereby ‘takes over things other people are supposed to be doing, more or less dispenses with their efforts, and multiplies his own tasks to such an extent that he can no longer carry them all out…It is far more important that the person at the top retains a clear picture of the overall situation than whether some particular thing is done this way or that.’

This implied a new concept of discipline. Discipline was not about following orders but acting spontaneously in accordance with intentions.

Moltke – Master of Modern Management

Organism. Intention. Emergence. These are the vibes of modern leadership.

Overall, the post-everything leader is a generalist. Armed with many mindsets, they thrive in a complex, ever-changing world.