Success in Unsure Occasions Requires Everybody to Be a Chief, No Matter Your Title

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

Whether we are aware of it or not, we have built a mythology around the leader. This is the wrong idea that leadership itself is singular and static and always starts from a person or position downwards. This misunderstanding is so ingrained that it finds its way into every organizational decision, into the structures and incentives we use to steer our teams forward, and most corrosively of all into every team member’s mindset. With this insight, we can begin to change both mindset and mythology: leadership movements. It is something that rebellious leadership organizations know, and it is a key factor in why these organizations consistently outperform those that don’t in allowing the leadership to move.

For a culture to be successful not just once but repeatedly, leadership must be seen for what it is – a common human ability. It must be allowed to rise from anywhere within the group. The most successful and sustainable human teams build on this knowledge. It has always been like this. Think of ancient human tribes. In certain circumstances, the medicine woman was a far more effective leader than the boss. In other cases, collectors filled this role because they were best equipped for the time and conditions. This leadership movement was necessary to move the group forward. It remains true to this day. If a tribe is to continue to thrive, advance, and perform at its best, the leadership must be allowed to move.

Some grudgingly acknowledge that leadership sharing has merit, but only in isolated moments. For them, the movement must be temporary and strictly controlled. However, in order to achieve a continuously adaptable organization, a change in leadership cannot happen occasionally or on the sidelines. It has to be central and cultural. Followed and acted, it’s a truly rebellious thought. However, the evidence that it works is abundant and far-reaching. To some, the concept of leadership change may sound unusual or even heretical at first. It couldn’t be more natural. It has, in fact, characterized who we are for most of our existence. We are built for this and perform at our best if we allow ourselves to.

This truth – about how we act individually and how we thrive together – has many leadership implications. And it is not just our evolutionary history that makes it important to take note of this. Compelling recent science confirms this and tells us even more about how and why we succeed, especially in uncertain times. It describes people of all kinds and at every level who gain great mutual benefit by not simply supporting each other or committing themselves to a greater common purpose, but recognizing each other as independent leaders – be they medicine women, warriors, collectors or the person who happens to be wearing the ceremonial headdress. Moving and sharing leadership is our natural state and inclination.

Despite our evolutionary truths, our social patterns teach us that the individual leader is leadership – a person who is ultimately responsible for all work, ideas, rewards, and punishments. Our organizations hold this view – corporations, of course, but also governments, schools, research laboratories, and sports teams, to name a few. We train people in this faith at all levels and throughout their lives. It’s in the structures of the places we work in, embedded in the incentives, the codes of conduct, the use of physical space and of course the titles. It lies deep in the stories we tell ourselves – from the media we consume to the speeches we make, even in the advertising and branding we use. All of this and more forges the misleading meaning that people associate with leaders. No wonder we are afraid of opening up another path. We expect our managers to perform at their best. However, this expectation can cause us to lose sight of what we really want: top performance. And for this, the leadership must be allowed to move.

Excerpt from the 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 the written permission of the author or publisher.

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