Saturday, October 3, 2009

It can be argued that over the centuries— to the end of the 20th century—society has moved from tribal to feudal to managerial. The 21st Century has seen the managerial mindset come crashing down. We may have talked about leadership and teams in the later 20th century but our organisational and societal structures remained largely the same as they were 30 years before—hierarchical power structures in which the few controlled the many.

Today it is clear that things must change. The global financial crisis was caused by people who were interested primarily in themselves—and they continue to oppose anything that might threaten their vested interests in power and money. Yet the continual move to “outsourcing” or “contract labour” in which one person might actually work for several organisations simultaneously or, serially, may have 30 or more “employers” over their working life, makes it clear that the old order, if not actually dead, is certainly terminal.

This is the age of the virtual organisation. This is the age in which young people are saying “if the job doesn’t engage me, I’ll go elsewhere”; “if the boss tries to get ‘heavy’, I’ll suggest ‘sex and travel’ and then move on.” There is a rebellion against power structures and the immediate availability of knowledge and data by such media as the internet means that even the last resort of power—information– is less available to those in authority than ever before.

People are demanding to be treated as individuals; to be treated with respect. The organisations that fail to recognise this—be they educational, government, business, religious, social, or whatever—are doomed to extinction.

The 21st century requires leadership—and leadership requires behaviours that are securely based on the foundation of unconditional respect.

There are many who will oppose this shift. We will see from these increasingly toxic behaviour that resorts to some form of fundamentalism—a demand that people submit to a supreme authority and do whatever is demanded in order to placate that authority. And we will see this eventually destroy itself.

There are others who will embrace the new world order. These are the ones who have a future. These are the ones who will make the future. These are the ones who will bequeath to their children and grandchildren a better world.

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