Monday, February 25, 2008

The looming leadership paradox

At the Metaverse U conference a week or so ago, Byron Reeves of Stanford asked, "Do you know who the guild leaders are in your organization?" He went on to comment that IBM had just completed a survey of its management and found that they had 1000s. I've been thinking of that off-and-on ever since.

The basic idea Byron was expressing is that the current generation of business leaders are sorely prepared to deal with the modern Enterprise 2.0 world with its flatness, lack of hierarchy, transparency, burstiness, lack of presence, and new metrics for measuring performance. He mentioned that the next generation of business leaders might better be selected from those that are adept at leading online virtual teams in executing complex missions. The very skills being developed by accomplished gamers.

So it was with interest that I read this Paul Hemp piece in Harvard Business: Does Your Leadership Development Strategy Include World of Warcraft?

This echoes a theme in the interview I did with HBS professor Linda Hill that appeared in the January issue, entitled “Where Will We Find Tomorrow’s Leaders.” One of Linda’s key points is that organizations risk overlooking potential leaders because they are “invisible” – that is, lack the high-profile personal characteristics such as compelling communications skills that we associate with leadership. Ironically, these invisible leadership candidates may in fact possess characteristics – for example, modest egos that don’t get in the way of collaborative work – that are ideally suited to tomorrow’s business environment.

And therein lies the paradox. How will the current generation of business leaders, with their gregarious "people skills" find, value, and promote this next generation of leadership? The current generation of leaders are making personnel decisions, and most haven't a clue about these new tools, and new ways of working. They don't use the tools, don't understand them, and are often frightened by the very organizational culture necessary to make them work.

The next generation of leader doesn't look anything like the current, and I don't see the one truly valuing the other any time soon. We are headed for a serious disconnect. It'll be interesting to watch how this all plays out.

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