In many industries -- particularly "white collar" ones -- the era of "bosses" is in decline. There is a rise in the need for leaders, guides, coaches, mentors, role-models, creators and builders, but less of a clamoring for bosses, managers, controllers, monitors, evaluators and paper pushers.
This shift has been driven by changing demographics, the spread of technology, the rise of unbundled and distributed work, new behavior expectations and a re-definition of what "work" is -- including the rise of fractionalized and free-agent talent who work for themselves or at multiple jobs and are expected to comprise most of the work force in the U.S. by the end of the decade. For more about these changes please see How to Thrive in the Modern Workspace and The Transformed Talent Terrain.
The new leader
Modern leadership is about zone of influence versus zone of control. People follow people and not titles. Leadership is a role and not a job title. It is a way of being infused with a passion for excellence and a quest for middle-to-long-term multi-stakeholder growth (company, community, employee, leader) versus a focus on the short term and emphasizing only investors/owners.
Most importantly it is about the continuous feedback and learning of a growth mindset.
Why the old model is collapsing.
Once upon a time a manager controlled the flow of information and access to opportunities and was a font of expertise and craft. Today the half-life of knowledge is growing shorter and shorter and the way of "this is the way things were done" is often the opposite of what needs to be done as new competitors and customer expectations do not care a fig about the way it was or is.
Talent can find information, opportunity and knowledge at a click of a mouse or the pinch of a finger and often are working at the other side of the world making monitoring, controlling and overseeing difficult. The future does not fit in the containers or the mindsets of the past. Many bosses are like sailors navigating their ships by looking at the mirage of a star that has long set.
Every year fewer and fewer people care about the dues paid or the way it was or what was done. Experience that matters is the ability to practice at the state of art, be at the top of one's craft, have the ability use previous learnings to find patterns, connect dots in new ways and distill insights.
Transforming from boss/manager to leader/coach is possible for those wishing to try.
As times change the best managers adapt and learn and flex into new shapes and learn new skills. Just because someone has bossy traits and was forged in a different era does not mean they cannot re-invent and re-wire their skills if they want to.
This transformation requires three conditions:
First it requires today's bosses to accept that to grow and remain relevant they will have to change, and while it may be difficult it is better than becoming irrelevant. It also requires their leaders to ensure that new incentive systems that are more about zone of influence, growth of craft and people versus zone of control of budgets and team size are put into place.
A new way requires new pay.
And there is an urgent need for coaching and training and patience to help today's managers become tomorrow's leaders. A personal hunger supported by new incentives and buttressed with training including the opportunity to self-learn is the formula. Talent is short and it is a mistake to believe that seasoned employees cannot grow into new potential.
New brooms sweep clean but old brooms know the corners.
How one can "De-Bossify" oneself.
Every human has the potential to grow and change since in many ways growth and change is what life is about.
Here's a three-step program:
Make time to learn. To do so requires us to listen to the voices of discontent and concern in our own head that we may be understanding less or lacking skills we need and instead of suppressing these or beginning to be buzzword bingo players spewing the latest in management or tech lingo to wallpaper a lack of understanding we need to go back to school.
Today, because of global shifts, demographic changes, advances and technology and the shock of COVID-19 everybody needs to be schooled and no one is alone. Knowledge and skills must be learned and are not immaculately gained.
Challenge one's thinking by seeing things from outside us.
Whether it is getting feedback from others or building a case for the exact opposite way of doing and thinking from the way we currently practice it is important to stretch oneself and look at things from a different vantage point.
Gaining new perspectives via provocations and new point of views can be thrilling and not just chilling.
Do/Build/Create/Practice. Modern leadership is being able to guide through experience. If one wants to learn about the Future of the Internet, reading a book on the Metaverse and appointing and delegating to a Chief Metaverse Officer is not enough. One needs to don a VR headset, mint an NFT, get a Meta-mask or other wallet, trade on a De-fi platform, etc.
We all must be apprentices now if we wish to grow up to be or remain the Magic Sorcerer!
May the force of de-Bossification be with us!
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