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New Citizenship Model Replaces Heroic Leadership

by Christopher Meyer on 01/14/2010

Everyone loves a great hero story.  The problem is that heroes rarely act alone.  Working wider rejects the heroic leader model not because it isn’t emotionally compelling but because it’s increasingly irrelevant.  When working across wider boundaries, it’s the citizens that rule.  The problem there is we think so much about leadership that we undervalue the role of citizens.  Working wider depends on a new model of citizenship so here’s my opening salvo based on our research.

The roots of today’s organization citizenship go back to the days of Frederick Taylor’s “scientific management”.  When Henry Ford brought Michigan farmers into his factories, he applied scientific management to define how the work should be done.  Operator procedures were defined that described each task and removed any initiative from those on the assembly lines.  Working wider depends on the reverse:  energizing and releasing the talent and initiative of those involved.

Here’s the key difference in the new citizenship model:  Contemporary organizations rely on a formal hierarchy and an informal peer network whereas our new citizenship model depends on an informal hierarchy and a formal peer network (see Center-Edge organization discussion).   This is how knowledge intensive institutions have operated for years.  Science laboratories, universities, professional associations and most consulting/personal service firms do so because their value added comes from the knowledge and initiative of their people.

In my research, it became increasingly clear that while it was never described as a new citizenship model, those that were more effective working wider were using one.  In fact, I’d argue that it was more responsible for their effectiveness than better or different leadership.  Effective leaders in these firms developed their citizen’s capabilities across the effort, regardless of what group or organization they belonged to.  Here are seven distinct differences observed:

New Citizenship Traditional
Linkage to other groups, systems and resources Individuals are responsible for outreach as well as importing ideas, tools, and outcomes in pursuit of the cause and in line with boundaries set by the center Individuals are responsible for following the “chain of command” and staying within defined roles & responsibilities
Responsibility for initiating and managing change Individuals are responsible for initiating change experiments, sharing results and propagating success Individuals are to participate in change as requested and defined by authorities
Status Defined by public reputation and contribution systems Status defined by title and role within home organization
Decision making Decisions are driven by evidence and negotiation in support  of the cause Decisions are driven by level, evidence and in support of the firm
Information The default is transparency with 24/7 availability The default is proprietary with strictly defined access
Resources Responsible for identifying and recruiting resources within and across boundaries Responsible for identifying resource requirements; recruitment shared with applicable function
Conflict Resolution Default: conflicts are owned and resolved at the edge.  The center makes sure critical conflicts are addressed and intervenes on an  exception basis Conflicts are owned within role limits and then escalated to next level for resolution.
Organization growth Limited to minimum viable requirements of the cause Fostered to increase stature and power

In addition, I noticed three key roles that brought the new citizenship model to life.

Linkers are those people who crosd boundaries fluidly and initiate connections that make sense between people.  Linkers have a deft sense of when this adds value and conduct themselves so as to be valued by those they connect.  They are certainly more outgoing personalities but it’s their sensitivity as networkers that differentiates them from gadflies.

Second are catalysts.  Catalysts have a deep understanding of the cause and engender trust that enables them to raise performance to the next level.  They have no interest in receiving personal credit or becoming a permanent fixture.  This role tends to include people from the Center as well as the Edge.

Last are champions.  Champions have a passion and energy that is unending.  When the aspect of the cause that excites them is not in broad favor, they can irritate and be subject to being stereotyped.  The most effective champions infect the others with energy they would not have had to address the issue at hand.

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