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By Travis Marsh

Leadership and power might be the most loaded words in business. Some people use them to the best of their abilities, others may struggle to grasp these concepts, and some use them only to satisfy their personal interests.

We tend to associate authority and decision-making with hierarchical systems, where the upper management supervises and controls every process and has the final say in the company’s projects. But leading people goes beyond telling them what to do or approving their work. Yes, successful leadership stems from our experience, but it also comes from our ability to understand, mentor, and serve others, as well as letting them make decisions.

An introduction to an emerging leadership paradigm

Whatever generation or geography we each belong to, one thing is certain: the systems in which we work and live weren’t created by us. They were shaped decades, centuries, or millennia ago many haven’t evolved even as our world has.

Often it feels comfortable simply doing our best within a system that has brought so much bounty to society. When the machine is humming and the cogs all spin in unison, we feel a sense of fulfillment and pride. Optimizing for efficiency, reliability, and reproducibility becomes our ultimate prize. But what happens when our current systems begin to fail us? When what we’re taking from our planet far outstrips Earth’s ability to regenerate? When individuals revolt against oppression or a lack of opportunity? When pandemics mushroom because of a lack of clarity, unity, or cooperation? Or when our ways of working serve neither businesses nor employees?

Leading together opens the door to new organizational structures and dynamic ecosystems where individuals can express their whole selves, feel more powerful, and synchronize with an organization’s purpose. That’s why more and more companies are adopting different self-managing frameworks to organize teams and define the responsibilities, roles, and boundaries of each of their members. And when these paradigms align with the collective goals, everyone gets to exert power not to benefit themselves but to accomplish meaningful outcomes.

As a skilled and experienced leader, you probably have been in a position of power. Maybe you loved it, and maybe you didn’t. Regardless, you’re probably dealing with more complexity now than you ever have before. Maybe you’re experiencing a real lack of joy or even frustration and burnout. Or gasp, even flat or declining business results. Or maybe you’re just curious. Curious how to help you and others grow and thrive. Curious how to create more engagement while also growing the business. Curious how to Lead Together. Well, it starts with bravely looking inward.

Leadership Redefined

Let’s tackle a common myth about self-managing organizations. These organizations are often referred to as flat, suggesting there is no hierarchy and therefore no leadership. As a result, they can be mistakenly seen as disorganized or chaotic with no one leading anything. In reality, every organization has a hierarchy, including those operating in the self-management paradigm.

Embracing emerging leadership philosophies doesn’t mean hierarchy needs to disappear, but it does need to become dynamic. Leadership isn’t held consistently by a small group of individuals. It shifts based on who has the most knowledge and experience in a specific context. Every leader has to face challenges, but they don’t have to do it on their own.

The big question is:

If your role isn’t to use positional power to control the team or leverage external motivation to incentivize behavior, then what is your job?

Join us as we explore that question in depth in Lead Together. Through over 100 stories of founders, CEOs, and leaders at over 60 different companies from around the world, Lead Together explores what it means to be a leader, the effects of power, and the benefits of building companies that choose peer-based relationships and transcending goals over profit and rapid growth. If you want to learn more about leadership roles, power relationships, sharing accountability and ownership, and have a framework for transforming your organization, you can download the introduction and the first few chapters here for free!


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