Two Leadership Rules for the Networked World

connect and clarify

We have a problem. Most of us are using old leadership techniques that no longer work.

Here’s a case in point. I met Cyrus a few years back. He was a manager who insisted on being involved in every decision that concerned his department. He was still living in the old world, where one person could keep up with all the decisions concerning their department. Not surprisingly, he received horrible performance ratings and burnt out quickly.

Leadership Rules for our Networked World

Today, in our flattened, hyper-paced world, leadership is no longer about commanding staff and controlling work. Instead, leaders are called upon to influence people who don’t report to them, direct higher-ranking employees, and gain commitment from people with little interest in their vision. It’s a challenge.

Olivia (not her real name) thrives in this new world. She’s charged with heading a matrixed, multi-national group of people who don’t report to her. All have other projects and priorities in addition to their work with Olivia. But each person is critical to Olivia’s program, which is, in turn, critical to the success of the organization.

Olivia wasn’t always the high-achieving leader she is today. She began with a command and control style of leadership. It was what she had seen her leaders do successfully and so she mimicked their ways. The approach backfired. People perceived her actions as micromanaging and resented her directives.

Olivia realized that her group needed a different kind of leadership. The project was too complex, the people too diverse, and the environment too volatile to manage using the old ways. Instead, Olivia developed the ideal leadership style for our networked world. She switched from command and control to clarify and connect.

Leadership Rule #1: Clarify

Olivia’s team members weather a barrage of new ideas, projects, and requests daily. Some of these are urgent, others are enticing. All have the ability to pull team members away from their work, get distracted, or move the project in a new direction that doesn’t align with others.

To help keep focus, momentum, and commitment, Olivia spends much of her time clarifying:

  1. Reinforcing the vision for the work
  2. Communicating the purpose and goals of the work
  3. Asking people to articulate what they need in order to do the work
  4. Clarifying individual and group roles and responsibilities
  5. Helping align actions among the various parts of the group

Through these activities, Olivia helps keep clarity so people can stay focused on the work.

Leadership Rule #2: Connect

Olivia’s team members are dispersed among offices in twelve different nations. It’s hard for them to know who has expertise in what area, when to ask others for advice, and how to coordinate efforts. Without support, they quickly revert to working with the people they know or the people close to them geographically.

As a result, Olivia spends much of her time connecting:

  1. Linking people with those who can be helpful to them
  2. Sharing information from one part of the group with another
  3. Forming sub-teams that include representatives who hold different perspectives
  4. Engaging subject matter experts and informal leaders
  5. Encouraging others to take on leadership roles

Olivia connects so people have what they need (and who they need) to do their jobs well.

Living in a Clarify and Connect World

Olivia has turned around her project and developed an aligned, energized, productive group. Along the way, she had to let go of some of the simple pleasures of the command and control world. Now she rarely has the satisfaction of whipping out a document on her own (now she gets feedback and collaborates). She sometimes misses the speed of independent decision making. But she gains something much more satisfying: the pleasure of seeing a group of people come together to truly make a difference… while knowing that she helped make it possible.

How well do you clarify and connect? Download our Clarify & Connect Tool to assess your leadership practices.

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