A few words about the new leadership

Strategy & Leadership

ISSN: 1087-8572

Article publication date: 1 August 2000

Keywords

Citation

Filson, B. (2000), "A few words about the new leadership", Strategy & Leadership, Vol. 28 No. 4. https://doi.org/10.1108/sl.2000.26128dab.003

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited


A few words about the new leadership

A few words about the new leadership

Brent Filson

Abstract Despite the fact that globalization has forced leaders to transform the way they do business, many are still engaged in outmoded methods of leadership. New ways of leading must be developed to enable businesses to thrive in today's storms of historic change. The new leadership is motivational, action-based, and results-driven. It involves self-motivated workers who, in turn, help companies to be highly adaptive and competitive.

Keywords: Leadership, Motivation, Hierarchy, International business

Although world business is undergoing historic changes, the prevailing view of what constitutes business leadership is stuck in the past. Generally, business leaders view leadership as an order-giving process. The word "leadership" comes from an old Norse root meaning "to make go." Many leaders believe that they must "make" people go by ordering them to do things. But the new business realities require a kind of leadership that has very little to do with order giving. Organizations are more competitive when employees make themselves go – when they want to do their tasks. That "want to" is the cutting edge of competitiveness.

Order-leadership in business has its roots in the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. "Order" comes from a Latin root meaning "to arrange threads in a weaving woof." The early captains of industry dealt with the relatively uneducated country people who flocked to their factories by ordering them where, how, and when to work. The most efficient and effective production methods resulted from workers being "ordered" like threads in the woof of production lines. Refined and empowered by the Victorian commercial culture, with its patriarchal power structure and strong links to Prussian military organization, the culture of the order-giver leader reached its zenith in the USA after World War II.

During the post-war years, many US businesses were like ships plowing through relatively calm seas. Their leaders, like a ship's captain and crew, received orders from superiors, gave orders to subordinates, and made sure the orders were carried out.

Today, with competition increasing dramatically, with the volume and velocity of information multiplying, and with the pyramidal structures of order-giving businesses flattening, leaders need skills more akin to whitewater canoeing. Order-leadership founders where lines of authority are blurred, information proliferates, markets are rapidly changing, and employees are highly skilled and educated. A new kind of leadership, based on creating an organizational environment in which people prompt themselves to go, is needed. This new leadership has three principles.

Motivational. The best way to get results is for people to be motivated to take the actions that produce results. However, the English language misconstrues motivation as something one person does to another. Leaders cannot motivate anyone to do anything. Leaders communicate – the people motivate themselves. The motivators and the motivatees are one and the same. The new leadership recognizes that people are motivated to get results only when they are in an environment where they can actively motivate themselves.

Action-based. A key aspect of the new leadership lies in the first two letters of the word "motivation." Those letters are also found in words such as "motion," "momentum," and "motor," words that denote physical action. Motivation is not what people think or feel but what they physically do. To engage in the new leadership, leaders must constantly challenge others to take physical actions that lead to results.

Results-oriented. Without results, motivated and action-oriented people are useless to a business. The truth is, however, that people who are motivated and taking action are more likely to get results. Leaders must have a passion to achieve more and faster results. They must permeate the culture of their organizations with a more-results-faster esprit.

Under the new leadership, how people get results is as important as the results themselves. To get more results faster, the order-leader demands that people run faster on the organizational gerbil wheel. But there is a limit to how fast and hard people can work before they burn out.

The new leader recognizes that to achieve more results faster and continuously, people cannot simply speed up, work harder, and be tightly controlled. They must replenish their spirits and energies. They must slow down to develop and employ powerful processes, and they must challenge others to lead for results. The effectiveness of the new leaders is not measured so much by their actions as by the effectiveness of the leadership activities they challenge others to engage in.

The recent emergence of interlocking global markets has stimulated a new vision of world commerce, a single global playing field. Leaders must match their business activities to the demands of that vision. Stuck with an outmoded vision of order-leadership, today's leaders are not seizing the full array of opportunities before them.