Leaders Create The Conditions For Emergence

Zippered ChrysalisA client cancelled a meeting today. So I'm catching up on reading.
Roger Trapp just posted on Forbes, Successful Organizations Need Leaders At All Levels.

Yes. Agreed. There is a dearth of qualified leaders, and for many reasons, as Trapp details.

I also read a pedigreed academic study from the School's of Economics at both Stanford and London, and McKinsey. The study surveyed 4000 mid-sized companies, observing that a relatively small and sustained investment in leadership training results in a 25% increase in staff productivity and 65% increase in return on capital. Not surprising. But it is nice to have the numbers.

That a debate even exists around the need for leadership development is also interesting. Anybody who is in a leadership role is always cultivating talent among direct reports. That’s what it means to be a leader. It is the crucial leadership skill. It’s also an endemic weakness. Why?

A third article by Barrett C. Brown helped me to understand part of the answer. You can find the article here (it's a brain-filler): Sane leadership in a crazy world: Essentials of complexity leadership. He draws leadership lessons from complexity theory. To paraphrase, there is a leadership fantasy that asserts the future is predictable. This fantasy inspires the following logic: "Based on my predictions, I’m going to manage in a directive hierarchy.”

But here’s the reality: charisma, deft political skills, industry expertise — all the stuff of Hollywood leadership — does not create successful organizations, at least not organizations that can sustain success. Organizational success is mostly attributable to the capability to adapt to opportunities in unknowable future states.

Leadership is not about controlling individual outcomes. That’s called management. Leadership is about creating the conditions in which people can self-organize in healthy ways around relevant issues. That’s the logic of ecosystems, where distributed strengths create the conditions for “emergence”. And it is the ability to have emergent capacities — also called innovation — that enables organizations to adapt to unknowable futures.

There are a few reasons why leaders don’t lead this way, but the primary one, I believe, is that creating such conditions in which people can drive innovation (aka, developing people) requires vision. And, as we know, humans are hard-wired to focus on the short–term.