Leading From The Edge

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we_magazine:
How does the world of pull affect leadership?

John Hagel: We believe it makes leadership even more central to success. But it also fundamentally shifts the tasks of leadership. So one of the roles of leadership that we’ve talked about is helping to create scalable platforms of pull. We need platforms that can scale to millions of participants not just a few. You are not going to be as effective in pulling in the resources and the people you need to be successful. At the extreme, the third level of pull that we talk about is pulling out our full potential as human beings and the full potential of our institutions. And here the role of leadership is to give us a sense of our potential ability to imagine what could be accomplished and to motivate us to head in that direction. So I think in this context leaders are very inspirational in terms of helping us to understand what our full potential really is.

we_magazine:
But pull is not only about platforms and potentials, it’s also about a different set of leadership skills, isn’t it?

John Hagel: Totally. You have to have a skill in terms of dealing with ambiguity; you have to have a skill in terms of your willingness to take more initiative on your own which is why this notion of leaders needs to foster other leaders. More than just having people who follow orders, you have to have a sense of how to connect much more effectively. One of the things that is more and more central to a world of pull is that you build trust based relationships with more people. So more flow is coming …. That’s another set of skills that is quite different from what we have right now.

we_magazine:
Change, transformation often starts at the edges of companies – not in their center. But can you lead from the edge?

John Hagel: I think you can. Not only can but need to. Again my sense in having worked with very large institutions over long periods of time is that it’s extraordinarily hard to get change to happen within the core of a large institution. So the only way to really mobilize and get that critical mass of support for the change agenda is to start with a promising edge. Essentially, when we talk about the edges of companies we are talking about promising new growth platforms. They are not significant parts of the business today; they don’t generate much revenue or profitability; there are not that many people yet. But they do have potential to scale very rapidly and become really central to the business over time. And one of the exciting things with current technology like cloud computing and social software is that you can scale these edges much more rapidly than you could in the past. It’s being thoughtful about which edges have this potential to scale. Using these edges to pull in the people who have real passion and risk taking ability helps drive change on the edge, and demonstrates through example the impact that can be achieved. This way you start pulling more and more people and resources from the core of the company out to the edges. Because they now see it is possible and they’re confronted with the sheer rapidity of its growth. So it motivates more and more people to participate and, ultimately, if you do it right these edges become the core of the enterprise.

we_magazine:
Isn’t this idea similar to leadership by innovation?

John Hagel: I think that what we should look at is the interesting reframing of innovation in the context of leadership. Today in almost every company when you talk about innovation you talk about innovation of a new product, major new technology breakthrough, maybe a process innovation, maybe a business innovation. But what we are talking about here is institutional innovation – innovating a new set of relation- ships across institutions that will drive more rapid value creation and enhance flows. That is leadership through innovation.

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The leaders of tomorrow are going to be those who innovate at the institutional level – not just at the product or technological level.

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we_magazine:
Does this leadership model only apply to companies or is it valid for governments as well?

John Hagel: The leadership question does extend beyond companies. It involves all institutions whether they’re educational institutions, non-governmental  institutions and certainly governments. The challenge for all of us is the institutions we have built under the model of push. On a fundamental level we need to rethink how these institutions will operate in a world of pull. What kind of leaders do we need not only to navigate the transition but also to successfully lead these new kinds of institutions. So it is an issue for governments. I think the turmoil we are seeing around the world is the result of push government institutions increasingly struggling to adapt and deal with the power of pull.

we_magazine:
If we look now at Tunisia or Egypt. The opposition, the people, they are kind of “unstructured” right now. There is a real lack of leadership, a vacuum …

John Hagel: … yeah, there is! I believe though that before new leadership can emerge there needs to be a vacuum to attract it. I am actually much more of an optimist that it will emerge. I think the key driver of these revolutions are those people without much explicit ideology or thought – it was an instinctive sense on the part of the younger generation that the development of their talent was being sacrificed and that they needed to oppose the institutions that prevented them from developing it in the way they needed to develop it. I think the motivation driving this is very positive. I think that by and large – with some exceptions – it’s been accomplished in a non-violent way simply by making a statement. And making a statement is once again a very positive indication that there is a different approach at work here which will ultimately lead to the surfacing of leadership. And this leadership will give a more explicit voice to the agenda driving this action.

we_magazine:
Many people are asking for somebody within the company who is head of this new kind of leadership. Some people call him/her the social business manager … But isn’t such a demand a contradiction in terms?

John Hagel: This is indeed a very difficult question. At one level the whole notion of social business is where leadership is much more distributed and diffused and everybody is taking the initiative and leadership. But there is a transition period – the question is how do you get there. And how do you deal with the enormous inertia and resistance at the core of these institutions. Where there are – to understate the difficulty – huge entrenched interests deeply hostile to this new world of pull. So I think there is a need for some form of leadership to emerge. Typically from my experience it emerges more on the edges of the enterprise. It’s some business executive who has been given the responsibility of driving a major new growth initiative. The business executive instinctively realizes that the old approaches are not going to be very helpful and that makes him or her more willing to take risks. And usually they are deeply passionate about what they are doing, so they tend to attract other people within the organization who have passion as well … who are excited by this area where rules and processes are not well defined. And yes, there is a lot of risk but there’s a lot of upside and reward if you succeed. In my experience it’s rarely anyone coming from the existing senior management of the large company itself …

we_magazine:
Can all this happen without top-down commitment?

John Hagel: It certainly would help to have commitment from the board. I think you rarely get commitment from the entire senior management team. Typically you’ll find one or two senior managers who are willing to be kind of sponsors, willing to say we are going to provide some protection for the change agent on the edge … But it’s rare to see an entire leadership team saying: We are going forward …

we_magazine:
… coming from the edge seems to be THE way!

John Hagel: Exactly! Exactly!



Who Is Leading WikiRevolutions?
(Don Tapscott)
A Wake-up Call For Despots (Lee Bryant)
Traditional Management Stopped Working! (Stephen Denning/ Luis Suarez)


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