The Open Source Organization: Future Proofing Leadership and Management Wisdom

By Rajeev Peshawaria

The world’s largest taxi company owns no cars, and employs no drivers directly. The world’s largest hotel service owns no properties and employs no housekeeping or room service staff. Communication has been whatsapped, memories instagrammed, and life itself facebooked. Almost everything we knew as normal in both business and social life has changed dramatically just in the last 10 years. We now live and work in the age of 24/7 connectivity of people and things, where knowledge is free and abundant, everyone is empowered, and everything is totally transparent.

Welcome to the open source era!

Even while the very nature in which people work, interact, and transact has already changed beyond recognition, the most widely used frameworks and practices for people management and organizational leadership seem to have remained unchanged over the last 50 years. How can HR and people practices be updated to better meet today’s needs? Specifically:

  • What style of leadership is best suited for creating breakthrough success in today’s high-speed environment—democratic or autocratic?
  • How must leadership be redefined or reincarnated in the open source era?
  • How can leaders inspire, measure, and reward performance at a time when a significant section of the workforce is opting for free agency over traditional fulltime employment?
  • How do leaders measure employee engagement and effectively address the gaps?
  • How can organizations innovate quickly and more often, and create a pipeline of future visionary leaders at the same time?

Answers to these questions will surprise you. Iclif Leadership and Governance Centre asked more than 16,000 people in 28 countries and found remarkable consistency of responses in country after country. The answers were so remarkable that we ended up writing a book called Open Source Leadership, which McGraw-Hill is publishing in October. Here are just a couple of examples of what we found:

Democratic or Autocratic Leadership?

The first question about democratic or autocratic leadership stems from the fact that while most leadership literature sings the virtues of a democratic style, it is the Elon Musks of the world (a known autocrat) who are changing the course of history. So, are they the exception or the rule in today’s high speed economy? A resounding majority of our respondents think they might be rules rather than exceptions.

But wait, how can this be true? Even if a leader wants to be autocratic, he cannot be, because ordinary people equipped with powerful mobile devices are more empowered than ever before. Have we forgotten the Arab Spring already, which told us that force is not even an option anymore? What, then, do we make of these data? On one hand, it seems an autocratic style of leadership is required in today’s open source era; on the other, ordinary people won’t let anyone be autocratic for too long. We call this the 21st-century leadership dilemma. Our research revealed that leaders indeed need to be autocratic, but they must earn the right to do so by practicing the five keys of positive autocracy.

Leadership in the Open Source Era?

Estimates as to the size of the global leadership development industry range from $30 billion to $80 billion a year. Yet, most executives around the world find current leadership development methods largely ineffective. Will competency models based on past success predict future success in the open source 21st century? Should psychometric tests and assessments continue to rule to roost in leadership development? Is emotional intelligence the ultimate answer to all things leadership

Again, our research says no. For leadership development to be effective in today’s environment, three big shifts need to take place:

  • leadership energy before competencies
  • character before personality
  • emotional integrity before emotional intelligence.