Entrepreneurs

Success in Uncertain Times Requires Everyone to Be a Leader, No Matter Your Title

In Rebel Leadership: How to Thrive in Uncertain Times (Post Hill Press, 2021), author Larry Robertson writes about a new kind of leadership, one that matches these uncertain times and enables organizations to thrive: Rebel Leadership. Rebel leadership isn’t what you might assume. It’s a new mindset for thinking and leading relevant to every level of the company. Five key insights define it. The following excerpt from his book describes the second insight: “Leadership moves.”

Whether we are conscious of it or not, we’ve built a mythology around the leader. Within it is the false notion that leadership itself is singular, static, always emanating downward from one person or position. So deeply rooted is this misconception, that it finds its way into every organizational decision, into the structures and incentives we use to point our teams forward, and most corrosive of all, into the mindsets of every team member. We can begin to change both mindset and mythology with this insight: leadership moves. It’s something rebel leadership organizations know, and allowing leadership to move is a key factor in why these organizations consistently outperform those that do not. 

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For any culture to succeed not just once, but repeatedly, leadership must be seen for what it is–a shared human capacity. It must be allowed to rise up from anywhere within the group. The most successful and sustainable human teams are built on this knowledge. They always have been. Think of human tribes of old. In certain conditions, the medicine woman was a far more effective leader than the chief. Other times, gatherers filled that role because they were best equipped for the time and conditions. This movement of leadership was necessary to carry the group forward. It remains true today. If a tribe is to continue to thrive, advance, and achieve peak performance, leadership must be allowed to move. 

Some begrudgingly acknowledge that sharing leadership has merit, but only in isolated moments. For them, the movement must be temporary and tightly controlled. Yet to achieve a continuously adaptive organization, leadership moving can’t be something occasional or on the edges. It must be central and cultural. Followed through and acted upon, it’s a truly rebellious thought. The proof that it works, however, is ample and wide-ranging. To some, the concept of moving leadership may at first sound unusual, even heretical. Yet it couldn’t be more natural. It has in fact characterized who we are for most of our existence. We’re built for it and perform at our peak when we embrace it.

This truth–about how we operate individually and how we thrive collectively– has many consequences for leadership. And it’s not simply our evolutionary history that makes it important to take note of, compelling recent science backs it up and tells us even more about how and why we succeed, especially in uncertain times. It describes people, of every kind and at every level, who gain a great mutual advantage, not simply by having each other’s back or collectively committing to a larger shared purpose, but by recognizing one another as leaders in their own right–be they medicine women, warriors, gatherers, or the person who just happens to wear the ceremonial headdress. Leadership moving and shared is our natural state and inclination. 

Despite our evolutionary truths, our societal patterns teach us that the individual leader is leadership–one person, ultimately responsible for all the work, ideas, rewards, and penalties. Our organizations perpetuate this view–businesses of course, but also governments, schools, research labs, and sporting teams, to name but a few. We train people at all levels and across the course of their entire lives in this belief. It’s in the structures of the places we work, embedded in the incentives, the codes of conduct, the use of physical space, and of course, the titles. It lies deep within the stories we tell ourselves as well–from the media we consume to the speeches we give, even in the advertising and brand building we employ. All of this and more forges the misleading meaning people associate with leaders. No wonder we’re fearful of opening up to a different way. We expect our leaders to be peak performers. But this expectation can cause us to lose sight of the thing we really want: peak performance. And for that, leadership has to be allowed to move.

Excerpted from Rebel Leadership: How to Thrive in Uncertain Times. Copyright 2020 by Larry Robertson. Excerpted with permission from Post Hill Press. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author or publisher.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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