The Next Big Thing: How You Connect


This column is by Dr Hilary Armstrong, Director of Education at the Institute of Executive Coaching and Leadership.

Leadership is not all about you. We’re in a networked age. It’s not what you know, or even who you know – it’s who knows you. That precious yearly bonus that acknowledges your leadership success? It won’t happen unless the people who report to you succeed.

Image: Feng Li/Getty Images

Welcome to the future. Individualistic approaches to leadership are no longer viable. You may have the highest intelligence quotient (IQ) and you may be emotionally intelligent (EQ). However, technology has democratised knowledge, our globalised world has made business operations complex and there are generational shifts in the workplace. A new form of intelligence is required – CQ, or Connected Intelligence.

After reviewing many hours coaching senior leaders, it has become clear that whilst organisational context and complexity has changed dramatically over the last 30 years, leadership and leadership development has stagnated. The fast-paced and networked age we live in requires a new form of leadership – and most Australian organisations are yet to catch up.

The evergreen story of the heroic leader is still alive and well in Australian companies. He (usually male) is an individual with the innate, endowed gift to lead and command others. His superior abilities are demonstrated by singlehandedly solving problems and inspiring and directing others to action (not always for good, as history has taught us).

Most leadership development practice is aimed at versions of this stereotype, but this is no longer working. Effective leadership in this new world is determined by the myriad relationships and connections that result from experience. Instead of looking to expertise for power, Connected Leaders realise that the network of reciprocal relationships they have built up during their career is their power.

Take the Royal Australian Navy for example. You can imagine the stereotypical views of leadership in such an organisation. But the Navy changed this by abolishing the “hero leader” style. It was important to the Navy that its people understood that leadership today was in fact a social construct, and that a leader without followers is not a leader at all.

To make this happen, competence-based leadership frameworks were replaced with concept-based frameworks. This led to a cultural shift, an understanding that leadership in the Navy now is not about rank or positional power, but a matter of character, integrity and meaningful connections with the people around them.

The Change in Practice

From Individuals to Networks for Joint Action

Connected leadership is the flow of information and meaning throughout the organisation. Individual blaming is minimised. The emphasis is joint action – what “we” can do, rather than what “I” can do. All parties take responsibility for the sharing and exchange of knowledge. Forms of network analysis that highlight informal collaboration channels replace.

Individual diagnostics are replaced by forms of network analysis that highlight informal collaboration channels. For example, with our network analysis partner, Optimice, we create a map of informal relationships within a team or company. From this, we can identify gaps and bottlenecks, providing the insights and education that enable joint action and collaboration across the network. In our experience this focus on the patterns of collaboration across the whole network leads to agile and productive organisations.

From Control to Coherence

Next is a shift from exercising control to building coherence. Coherence comes from shared meaning and purpose. People are drawn to an organisation because they see a connection between this shared purpose and their own personal fulfilment. A Connected Leader is the custodian or nurturer of this shared purpose.

One organisation I have worked with recently has as a shared purpose that all employees will directly contribute value to the customer. People are employed for their unique contribution to customer value. As employees, how they achieve this is up to them. This autonomy within the shared purpose brings a sense of confidence and empowerment. This in turn delivers discretionary effort, good results and minimal staff turnover (including the Gen Ys).

From Policy and Procedure to Real-time Conversations

Traditionally, leadership has been about formulating policy and managing performance through a hierarchy of roles. Evidence indicates that performance development plans and leadership competency frameworks impede performance and diminish positive engagement. In one new and innovative organisation I worked with, the only policies and procedures are those required by regulation. Replacing written policy is training and ongoing support for managers and leaders to have the robust, real-time, conversations required for engagement and performance.

If you leave this page with one thing, let it be this; CQ Leadership is a shift from individual competencies to moderating collaborative and networked cultures. Make the shift, and you’ll find that leaders around you will emerge easily to fill the requirements of the moment, making your organisation a modern, dynamic and successful one.

Find out more about the Institute of Executive Coaching and Leadership here.

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