We Volume 5: special issue on ‘flat’ leadership

Here’s the editorial introduction to the special issue:

“In this issue we turn to the question of how the WE correlates with leadership in a networked world. At first sight the dynamic, self-organizing amorphous “WE” might seem a strange bedfellow to the strict, unbending, authoritarian ideas of “leadership” mainly found in business. But in a world in which the WE is in constant flow, where it is highly connected and is developing more and more impact all around the globe, leadership models which aren’t flexible in structure, speed and agenda will simply fail. Leaders are no longer appointed; nowadays they are chosen.

All over the world we see the emergence of new WEs that are in constant flux. Just take a look at the Arab countries Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Libya and Yemen and you’ll see WEs experimenting with completely different forms of leadership. Forms unknown to most of us. Their structure is complex. They’re not settled yet. All we know is that these new WEs are driven by many leaders of a new kind all seeking to make a difference.”

Excerpt: Interview with JP Rangaswami:

” we_magazine: What kind of impact does enterprise 2.0 have on leadership?

J.P.: The first impact is that we used to organise in hierarchies because it was very expensive to sit and communicate with everybody. The costs of collaboration were exceedingly high. But with the Web they came down to almost zero! And with today’s tools it is possible to flatten the organisation and to have feedback loops for a large number of people without aggregating them. Because whenever you aggregate you start summarising data and that weakens the communications process.
The second thing these tools do is they accentuate and enhance lateral communication. So now you can find out what the information flows in the organisation actually are. Because our departments, functions and structures aren’t the actual organisation itself, they are just a way of trying to manage it. And this was needed at a time when we didn’t scale well, when we only had analogue ways of dealing with the data stream. So I think the big change for organisational leadership is that with these tools and structures flattening a hierarchy becomes affordable.

we_magazine: Are you saying we don’t need any hierarchies at all?

J.P.: No, no, no. There will always be hierarchies. There has been a considerable amount of research about emergent behaviours and swarming phenomena. When you see birds in flight, you can question whether these sorts of behaviour actually need leadership. But in the corporate world we still have requirements to deal with – such as reporting cycles and planning horizons either of the owners or the shareholders. So while we may see a willingness to take on emergent behaviours, the company still has to be rooted in the financial construct of quarterly reporting and annual reports of figures, accounting charts etc. This means you need to have at least enough hierarchy to fullfil these requirements.

we_magazine: So you would NOT say that leadership belongs to the network?

J.P.: Leadership absolutely belongs to the network but the financial aspects of leadership are not easy to model. So while hierarchy is necessary for these financial aspects, actual leadership doesn’t need the hierarchy at all.”

Some citations:

* Don Tapscott on Network Government:

“A platform is an instance of a network. We talk about network governments whereby we network all kinds of capability in society to create public value. One of the ways a network government can do that is by creating a platform where others can self- organize, and you create a platform by just creating raw data. Governments provide data that enable individual, civil society organizations, private companies and other governments to create their own networks to do something. To solve a problem in society, to deliver a service, rather than governments doing this by themselves as they did in the past.”

2 Comments We Volume 5: special issue on ‘flat’ leadership

  1. Avatarhappyseaurchin

    My God, this man is blind! He can only see what is right in front of his nose!

    Seriously, he mentions flocking, and then dismisses it as it compares to the company structure. This is very short-sited indeed. I have enough experience to know the emphasis is still on foundation and fixity for efficient business structures and the endless saber-rattling of leadership. However, I have enough practice to realise that lean business models are one step away from a much more fluid and no-organisational mode of operation, and it is all about following.

    Not to mention that all hierarchies are temporary in nature. It is simply a matter of the period of hierarchical growth and collapse. The question is, how short can it be, and yet remain viable? This might suggest the shorter the flatter, but this depends on our trust metrics. Can a company be formed, perform a social function (eg a product), and dissolve within days? Think event management.

    I am not suggesting that we compete or replace traditional structures, but we can easily experiment and collaborate on alternative systems. And if they serve us well, they will erode the edifices of offices to the point where experts will take this as granted. In fact, I would have thought that the people here at p2p “foundation” would be interested in such practice and development.


  2. AvatarMichel Bauwens

    David, not sure exactly which man you are referrign to, but in any case, I didn’t know about your book … care to present, or sofia, to the p2p blog? thanks for sending me material on it for a wiki entry as well.

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