Collaborative Leadership Blog

Leadership’s 4th Evolution: Collaboration

What got you here won’t get you there

–Marshall Goldsmith–

In terms of leadership paradigms, we have been wandering in the wilderness since 1960. Many

leaders still use the leadership practices of the 20th Century Industrial Age, hierarchy, to run their 21st Century Digital Age companies. Some are more benevolent and realize that people do the work of their organizations, and have become more participatory and transparent, but are still transactional, or cooperative, in their style. Still others are team-based, have positive learning and development programs, and have all the appearances of being more people-centric, but remain firmly entrenched in the hierarchical construct. A few companies reflect the values and practices of a collaborative leadership culture. It is a choice. And with Millennials being 75% of the global workforce by 2025, the time to move toward a collaborative culture is now. It is time for the leadership’s 4th evolution—Collaboration.

We know that in the 21st Century, technology is accelerating at close to a billion times faster

than now, which will force organizations to adjust, adapt or die. But people resist change, even when it may mean losing their jobs.  As a consequence of this phenomenon, organizations are not changing at a rate anywhere close to the rate of technological change. Globalization is causing businesses to become more networked, and virtual.  The volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity, and interdependence of global markets means business leadership cultures must adapt or face being disrupted out of business. We also know that the world faces existential threats like global warming, nuclear proliferation, disease pandemics, and famine, and our national leaders must also begin collaborating to solve these problems—now.

We are simply not prepared for the 21st Century, as individuals, organizations, nations, or as a planet. What got us here is hierarchical leadership, plus a half century of wandering in the cultural wilderness where we have tried everything to see what would work best. It took 60 years to fully realize the anomalies of hierarchical leadership, discovering that it is people who make our businesses work, and that leaders need to motivate and engage them. It took another 30 years to get us to the understanding that leadership should be principle-based—Steven Covey’s work. It’s took us another 10-15 years to realize we needed to evolve to the next level, collaborative leadership, the essence of which is this: People want to be trusted, respected, and honored for who they are as responsible and accountable human beings, want to be safe, and to own their jobs and the workplace so that they can be their best selves and do their best work.

What are we waiting for? Leaders have a choice—to rearrange the chairs on the deck of a sinking Titanic, or they can embrace a cultural platform that gives us the best chance of meeting these challenges, and potentially save the planet.  

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Dr. Edward Marshall is an Adjunct Professor in Management at the Fuqua School of Business and Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University; ICF certified executive coach, Lifetime Top 15 Trust Thought Leader, author of the forthcoming book: Leadership’s 4th Evolution: Collaboration for the 21st Century, August, 2020 edward.marshall@duke.edu