A complex and cluttered environment for leaders makes old hierarchical models of leadership outdated. We need to adjust our expectation of how leaders behave to meet the needs of our new complex systems.
History is full of strong and decisive leaders. Mostly male leaders at the top of hierarchies they answer any question simply and directly based on their expertise. They issue orders at will to make our roles as followers as simple and passive as possible. Napoleon rose to the heights of power, conquered nations, dictated laws and built new institutions. He also cost millions of lives, failed to hold on to his power and died in his second exile in the care of jailers. His journey was all before global connection made a leaders challenges far more complex.
Clarity and directness may be comforting but we are slowly learning that three word slogans aren’t the answer. In our complex era, the appeal of simple directions fades rapidly. Reality intrudes quickly.
Followers don’t want simplicity for its own sake. They want simplicity because it used to mean effectiveness. They want progress on the issues that matter to them. Most importantly they want to be understood and have their needs at least considered and at best addressed.
Leaders can no longer demand a following. They must earn it by their actions. The path of engaging others can look a lot like weakness and indecision: listening, engaging, considering, experimenting with approaches and admitting limits and uncertainties. Great leaders don’t have answers and orders. They engage entire communities in taking up the work of change to make things better. Great leaders are not strong, they are interconnected, build connections and know connection is the source of their enduring influence. Leaders can no longer hide out in palaces, parliaments or headquarters. Relationships last longer than orders and get far more done.
In a complex world a little indecision is required to find the path to greater effectiveness.