The management writer and academic explains why he believes companies that empower and train people at all levels to lead can create competitive advantage. The latest M-Prize challenge, cosponsored by Gary Hamel’s Management Innovation eXchange (MIX), Harvard Business Review, and McKinsey, asks managers to submit examples of how their organizations are empowering and training individuals to lead even when they lack formal authority. In this video, Hamel discusses why he believes it is vital for companies to “syndicate the work of leadership” across the organization, to redistribute power, and to change the role of the top team. This interview was conducted by McKinsey Publishing’s Simon London.
What follows is an excerpt of the edited transcript of Hamel’s remarks. To watch the video and/or read the complete transcript, please click here.
To learn more about the Leaders Everywhere challenge, please visit the Management Innovation eXchange Web site by clicking here.
* * *
Syndicating the work of leadership
The Management Innovation eXchange is the world’s first open-innovation platform, where we’re trying to elicit bleeding-edge practices in the world of management and organization and leadership. Every so often, we run a McKinsey–Harvard Business Review management prize (M-Prize) to pull those amazing new practices and those bleeding-edge ideas up to the surface.
This time around, the challenge is what we call Leaders Everywhere. And the thought underneath this is that we live in a world where never before has leadership been so necessary but where so often leaders seem to come up short. Our sense is that this is not really a problem of individuals; this is a problem of organizational structures—those traditional pyramidal structures that demand too much of too few and not enough of everyone else.
So here we are in a world of amazing complexity and complex organizations that just require too much from those few people up top. They don’t have the intellectual diversity, the bandwidth, the time to really make all these critical decisions. There’s a reason that, so often in organizations, change is belated, it is infrequent, it is convulsive.
Because, typically, in those traditional structures, by the time a small team at the top realizes there’s a need for fundamental change, by the time a problem is big enough or an opportunity clear enough that it prompts action, that it breaks through all the levels, commands the attention of these extraordinarily busy people up top—it’s too late. So if we want to build truly adaptable organizations, we have to syndicate the work of leadership more broadly.
I think the dilemma is that as complex as our organizations have grown, as fast as the environment is changing, there are just not enough extraordinary leaders to go around. Look at what we expect from a leader today. We expect somebody to be confident and yet humble. We expect them to be very strong in themselves but open to being influenced. We expect them to be amazingly prescient, with great foresight, but to be practical as well, to be extremely bold and also prudent.
How many people like that are out there? I haven’t met very many. Right? People who have the innovation instincts of Steve Jobs, the political skills of Lee Kuan Yew, and the emotional intelligence of Desmond Tutu? That’s a pretty small set. And yet we’ve built organizations where you almost need that caliber of person for them to run well if you locate so much of the decision-making authority in the top of the organization.
* * *
To watch the video and/or read the edited transcript, please click here.
The Wall Street Journal recently ranked Gary Hamel as the world’s most influential business thinker, and Fortune magazine has called him “the world’s leading expert on business strategy.” Hamel’s landmark books, which have been translated into more than 20 languages, include Competing for the Future, Leading the Revolution and The Future of Management (selected by Amazon.com as the best business book of the year). His latest book, What Matters Now, was published in 2012.
Over the past twenty years, Hamel has authored 17 articles for the Harvard Business Review and is the most reprinted author in the Review’s history. He has also written for the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, The Financial Times and many other leading publications around the world. He writes an occasional blog for the Wall Street Journal. Since 1983, Hamel has been on the faculty of the London Business School, where he is currently Visiting Professor of Strategic and International Management.
To visit his website, please click here.