The largest taxi services no longer own any taxis or employ any full-time drivers. The largest hotel network owns no properties and has not seen most the rooms customers sleep in. One of the largest shoe companies makes no shoes, nor has any bosses. As my favorite poet says, “The times, they are a-changin'!”
There is a radical shift taking place in our global economy that is the result of a conceptual shift in how societal structures can be better built for the fluid future we are hurtling towards. While there is lots of excitement as this shift takes place, this transition presents our global community with some big challenges, most notably...
How do we exercise leadership in the era of decentralization?
As more and more structures get “disrupted”, traditional hierarchies are being dismantled. While I believe this is a positive trend for the arc of humanity, it is causing immense friction, especially for leaders.
Look around at the leaders that our current culture has elevated: Donald Trump, Elon Musk, Beyonce, Bill Belichick, Mark Zuckerberg, and on and on. Whether we like it or not, these cast of characters are leaders in some form or fashion, and their leadership styles are vastly different, yet all effective by some metrics.
One characteristic they all share though is their firm position at the top of the hierarchies they operate. As our world gets Bitcoin/UBER/AirBnB-ified (a.k.a. decentralized), we need more models of what leadership looks like. We need folks like Tony Hsieh to be better understood. Tony is the CEO of Zappos, who in 2016 decided to flatten Zappos, a very successful online shoe retailer. Tony saw the cultural trajectory heading towards decentralized models and led Zappos down the unknown road. Zappos has over 1,500 employees, but not one boss.
Tony is one of the few leaders we have who has democratized his power, doing so in one interesting form (holacracy), and many others are doing/desiring to do the same. Each industry is different, and taxis, money, and hotels might be an easier place to start than education, shipping and logistics, healthcare and others. That being said, I feel it is an important conversation to broach with all aspiring leaders and those currently at the helm: how do we begin to learn the skills needed to lead in decentralized organizations.
Workforce trends inform us that employees want more choice. Our global state of affairs is forcing industries to become more resilient and responsive, as our culture becomes more fluid. And all these shifts are demanding that organizations begin doing things differently. For this to happen, we need leaders to find ways to relinquish control to their stakeholders in pursuit of creating more resilient people, organizations, and global communities.