Leadership

Do you remember the Braveheart speech when Scottish hero William Wallace rallies his countrymen to freedom? I can’t remember the exact words but I do remember Wallace charging up and down the front lines on a white horse, the classic hero figure, getting his men all worked up before the final battle – which they ultimately win.

I’m sure Wallace at the time was tapping into the most effective means of influencing and leading the folks that were around in medieval Britain. Today things are quite different, and organizations of all types are having to reevaluate whether “command and control” style leadership is really up to the challenges of our modern organizational reality. Most notably is the example of the US armed forces who despite being notorious for their “this is how we do it around here” approach have had to acknowledge, as troubling as it may be for them, that listening to other’s opinions is something that is here to stay.

Because of the internet, everyone today has become annoyingly opinionated on just about everything. Everyone is a neurosurgeon, a politician, a financial advisor, a martial artist, a computer hacker and a spiritual guru all rolled into one. The ability to instantly learn about something that a moment ago we knew nothing about results in unmerited confidence, a naive sense of entitlement and a disproportionate feeling of authority on a wide range of unrelated topics. This results in a devaluation of legitimate sources of information while amplifying our cognitive bias and illusory superiority many times over.

For example, if you ask the young bartender at your local pub how to fix the economy he will probably, without a moment’s hesitation, blast down all those incompetent economists and then proceed to provide his brilliant solution to all of society’s economic ills. On the other hand, if a seasoned economist were to stumble into the same bar and was asked the same question, he would likely be very hesitant to provide an answer and think hard as he assesses the sheer complexity of the matter.

Nowadays employees are hard to influence, they are not the simpletons of yesteryear. One remarkable scientific study shows that as we become more interconnected and interdependent through social media and globalization, our brains too change to reflect our new environment. Today’s employees (and this is especially true of younger employees who are growing in proportion) are networked, tech-savvy, opinionated, they question everything and hate being told what to do. They don’t recognize nor bow down to “authority.”

For William Wallace and many of our current leaders, all of this of course sounds like complete gibberish. If William were alive today, I’m sure he would much rather jump on an office desk and passionately shout at the top of his lungs Freeeeeeeedom! and expect something to happen, and of course it would. Security would pull him down and efficiently escort him out of the building.

And although I completely sympathise with William’s frustrations, hero leadership doesn’t work anymore. Rather, a leadership style that promotes collaboration and nurturing through round-table discussions, group dynamics and gamification reflecting the new values of our time is much more effective at building communication, trust and respect than a top down approach. (See our resources page for more info).

In future posts we will continue to explore the changes that are happening in our world, our workplaces and in the field of social psychology in order to understand what we can do to be more effective leaders and professionals.

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