Friday Thread: What is leadership in a digital age?

The world is moving faster than ever before. And the capacity of our social and political institutions are struggling to keep up with, never mind understand that change.

Today’s #SluggerReport looked at how the digital revolution is calling for a rather different form of leadership, if we are to begin operating outside the current operate outside the Pied Piper/new prophet/populist mode.

As Neal Lawson has pointed out in the case of New Labour, the conditions have changed profoundly from the days when Tony Blair built the New Labour project from the Captain’s Cabin. He based that project…

…around a model of party control and iron discipline that can’t be repeated in an age of social media and is impossible to imagine without the existence of a once in a generation political operator – Mr.  T Blair. There is no turning back to 1997.

Earlier this week, Una Mullally had this to say on Irish Labour’s attempts to harness Twitter with a single hashtag (r):

If Irish political parties want to use the internet with any success, they have to move away from migrating the same old PR ideas online. They have to actually engage in a more conversationalist way, allowing the online electorate to access information about policy and initiatives and ideas, and then listen to what comes out of that.

As the marriage referendum showed, people engage with issues online. The internet won’t change general apathy or cynicism, but it does give people an opportunity to engage.

The question is how do you do that, extract a functional return on that engagement, and come home with the shirt still on your back?

The answer is, in part at least, developing a new approach to leadership. One which doesn’t assume the audience is merely a passive consumer. According to my friend and colleague John Kellden, situational leadership is a step away from traditional models:

  • all about cocreating joint ownership of frames around the relevant data;
  • can be easily measured by two indices: shared understanding and shared purpose;
  • is a process, not a role. That said, the process needs to be embraced and embodied by all stakeholders;
  • emerges out of self-leadership and servant leadership, based on a willing embrace of our own character and a continuous choosing and keeping true to our own transforming practice.[emphasis added]

It’s not what any of us  grew up to expect from the world. But given the alternative (Pied Piperism leading whole societies off the face of the earth). But the willingness to be measured (and constant checking back with sources) is one of the key distinguishing marks of leadership as process.

We are a long way from that yet, not because there is no will, but because current forms of governance are lagging the new tools of popular discourse by some considerably long way…


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