We have entered the age of empowered individuals. Leaders use potent new technologies and harness social media to organize themselves and focus interest on their agendas and activities. Most are ordinary people with access to new information tools that can virally create large global audiences for their messages.
The more traditional hierarchical institutions of modern developed societies, whether they are governments or companies, are not prepared or ready for this new social power or leadership as the riots in London and the recent occupy campaigns in cities around the World exemplify.
This power has resulted in the emergence of a new dynamic form of leadership and new styles of leader – they are individuals who do not hold formal positions of authority, they operate and influence at every level within society virtually – top, middle and bottom. They are interested in political, social and organisational change. They challenge the status quo of the traditional institutions and the established concepts and practices of leadership. The speed of action of such groups implies revolution although given the pace of modern life it may just reflect more rapid evolution.
The world is changing and potential leaders now have phenomenal access through modern technology to potential followers; but are we really seeing the emergence of a new ‘grassroots leadership style’ or just a virtual reaction to current geo-political and economic issues and imbalances on global organisational and social stages?
This new technological advantage neuters traditional power and law enforcement and quickly turns virtual agendas into reality and action on an unprecedented scale. What we are seeing is the emergence of a new type of social leadership, irrespective of position or power or authority – relational rather than hierarchical. The concept of a fluid collective responsibility with time relevant ‘liquid leadership’ that builds, fades and morphs – where leadership comes to the fore at the top, centre, or edges of an organisation be it virtual or real. Leadership based more upon time relevant expertise, knowledge, and relational connection. It is a transient relationship where power is virtual and yet influence is real – a matter of permissive leadership with influence presiding over old fashioned traditional enforced authority, control and autocracy. Speed is of the essence and speed creates a phenomenal advantage for these new free running leaders. Accordingly, social power or the ‘power with’ rather than ‘power over’ provides the collaborative advantage even on the global stage. Witness the Arab Spring. This new leadership can be momentary and omnipotent, as powerful and transient as it is weak and ineffective. Predictable-maybe sometimes, yet surprise brings potency and it’s this new leadership’s unpredictability in terms of uptake or influence that can make it difficult to control. A popular cause and the means of unfettered communication are at the heart of this new leadership. Alliances fostered in an information age where national agendas are undone by social perceptions.
This new leadership has a precedent; it is similar in shape to the old terrorism of Al Qaida and Osama bin Laden. Where a religious and social agenda created a fanaticism that spawned martyrs by the thousand. Where social agendas pampered to by a sensationalist press created a myth of omnipotence. Perhaps the new anti-establishmentarianism will be seen as the new terrorism when viewed from an old fashioned state government perspective
This new leadership comes and goes dependent upon the social situation and leaders come and go dependent upon the relevance of their expertise and the access they have to social media and the scale of their audience. This new form is so dynamic it resembles a ‘liquid leadership’ of a group coalesced by only a social strategy or popular agenda.
These new groups herded together by social conscience or injustice often present a preferred response to those transgressors they oppose. Their preference is for action, to engage, not ignore; work with each other, not against to resolve issues by whatever means whether the establishment likes it or not.
Business needs to understand this new dimension of leadership, if it does not it will miss out on an opportunity. It needs to harness the social and economic power this new form of leadership affords For to understand and develop a new business leadership culture based upon influence and empowerment will bring with it a quantum change to the long established way leadership is currently practised using some of the somewhat antiquated autocratic leadership theory.