Leadership Under Change – Equality Not Subordination

In the tran­si­tion from the indus­tri­al age to the age of knowl­edge work, the rela­tion­ship between employ­ees and their orga­ni­za­tion changes fun­da­men­tal­ly. Depen­dent work­ers increas­ing­ly become inde­pen­dent knowl­edge work­ers who car­ry their means of pro­duc­tion in their heads. The orga­ni­za­tion is there­fore more depen­dent on knowl­edge work­ers than vice ver­sa. In this tran­si­tion, the net­work replaces the hier­ar­chy as the lead­ing orga­ni­za­tion­al prin­ci­ple. Lead­er­ship is there­fore no longer based on sub­or­di­na­tion and obe­di­ence, but now aims at the self-lead­er­ship of the peo­ple entrust­ed to it.

For a long time, lead­er­ship aimed at obe­di­ence. Chil­dren were (and unfor­tu­nate­ly still are) edu­cat­ed at home and at school with the aim of inte­gra­tion into soci­ety and its orga­ni­za­tions. And this inte­gra­tion meant and means essen­tial­ly sub­or­di­na­tion. Although the imper­me­able estates of the realm of the Mid­dle Ages are a thing of the past, the orga­ni­za­tion­al prin­ci­ple of hier­ar­chy has been pre­served because of the pos­si­bil­i­ty of one’s own ascent, which accom­pa­nied the Enlight­en­ment. No ascent with­out hier­ar­chi­cal order. In the course of indus­tri­al­iza­tion with its large cor­po­rate struc­tures, this prin­ci­ple expe­ri­enced a sig­nif­i­cant expan­sion and dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion. Hier­ar­chy was and is the dom­i­nant orga­ni­za­tion­al prin­ci­ple of the indus­tri­al age.

Knowl­edge work­ers can­not be man­aged as sub­or­di­nates; they are asso­ciates. They are seniors or juniors but not supe­ri­ors and subordinates.

Peter F. Druck­er, Management’s New Par­a­digm, 1998 

Already in 1959 Peter F. Druck­er coined the term “knowl­edge work­er”, whose work essen­tial­ly con­sists of think­ing up and cre­at­ing some­thing entire­ly new. For this pur­pose, knowl­edge work­ers work with their knowl­edge and there­by gen­er­ate new insights and new knowl­edge. These work­ers car­ry their means of pro­duc­tion in their heads. There­fore the orga­ni­za­tion is more depen­dent on them than vice ver­sa. At the time of Fred­er­ick Winslow Tay­lor, the work­ers were unskilled and the man­ag­er was the expert who used their labor as pro­duc­tive­ly as pos­si­ble. But today’s knowl­edge work­ers are now experts them­selves and they right­ly expect “species-appro­pri­ate” to be lead as equals.

Lead­er­ship is the art of accom­plish­ing more than the sci­ence of man­age­ment says is possible.

Col­in Powell

The prin­ci­ple of hier­ar­chy in the indus­tri­al age is now fol­lowed by the prin­ci­ple of net­work in the age of knowl­edge work. Lead­er­ship is no longer based on sub­or­di­na­tion and obe­di­ence, but on the self-lead­er­ship of the peo­ple entrust­ed to it. Lead­er­ship pro­vides ori­en­ta­tion for the knowl­edge work and the knowl­edge work­ers. Lead­er­ship beyond sub­or­di­na­tion and obe­di­ence is there­fore more impor­tant than ever. But the chess mas­ter is obso­lete, the gar­den­er is in great demand today. Good lead­er­ship cre­ates a frame­work in which peo­ple and their ideas can unfold in the pur­suit of a com­mon purpose.

Lead­er­ship is the art of giv­ing peo­ple a plat­form for spread­ing ideas that work.

Seth Godin

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