Leadership Development and Emergent Leadership

May 28, 2014 by Wally Bock

I loved Sally Helgesen’s article, “Why ‘Leadership’ Isn’t Just for Leaders Anymore.” Here’s the money quote.

“But in today’s lean and fast-shifting environment, where the spread of information and networked technologies have broken down hierarchies and eroded silos, people at every level need to make decisions.”

That’s a work in progress. We’re way past the point where the boss was the person who knew the most about the work. We’re still working on how leadership work should get done. That’s why we’re talking about something called “emergent leadership” in addition to the two kinds of leadership we’re used to.

We know about “assigned leaders,” the people whose job includes leadership. They’re the people most leadership development programs are designed for.  And we know about what I call “leaders without portfolio.” They’re the people whose opinions and example influence the behavior and performance of others.

Emergent leadership is different. Here’s how Google’s Laszlo Bock thinks about it.

“Traditional leadership is, were you president of the chess club? Were you vice president of sales? How quickly did you get there? We don’t care. What we care about is, when faced with a problem and you’re a member of a team, do you, at the appropriate time, step in and lead. And just as critically, do you step back and stop leading, do you let someone else? Because what’s critical to be an effective leader in this environment is you have to be willing to relinquish power.”

Assigned (what Bock calls “traditional”) leaders need to learn to step back at the appropriate time. How do we help them recognize that time and learn to step back?

Emergent leaders need to step up. How do we prepare them to do that and do it effectively?

We expect assigned leaders to lead differently and other leaders to emerge as needed. The question is, “How do we enable those behaviors?”

Further Reading on Emergent Leadership

From Matt McFarland: Emergent leadership: The trait that smart, innovative companies seek out in employees
“While all bosses are supposed to lead, and have leadership roles, there’s no guarantee they will have the best ideas and motivate their employees to innovate. Bosses are assigned leaders; emergent leaders are the ones who inspire, are respected and followed.

From Jesse Lyn Stoner: Emergent Leadership Topples the Pyramid
“The problem is the hierarchical view of leadership is not nearly as effective as we would like to believe.”

Wally Bock is a coach, a writer and President of Three Star Leadership.

Posted in Leadership Development

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