The New Leadership Paradigm: Rule by Community

"Hosni Mubarak"

Hosni Mubarak

The riots in Cairo have reinforced the movement exemplified by the Tea Party in the U.S. – leadership by community.  It is the new leadership paradigm — the spontaneous formation of new communities of leaders, made possible by the power of the Internet.  The old paradigm of one leader at the top of the leadership pyramid is crumbling everywhere. We’ll talk later about what this new paradigm means for business.  But, first, let’s learn from what’s happening in Cairo where it is chaos and bloodshed and events are unfolding by the minute.

The Power of Twitter and Facebook

The images from Cairo on TV are frightening and Twitter is again center stage with a continuous stream of updates, many with links to videos from the scene.  Here’s how it all started:

Before the Egyptian government shut down popular networking sites, many thousands of disaffected young Egyptians joined the Facebook community entitled We are all Khaled Said, which called for the downfall of the current regime and where members post updates of events on the ground in real time.

According to Newsweek, “The anonymous Facebook page administrator who goes by the handle El Shaheed, meaning martyr, has played a crucial role in organizing the demonstrations, the largest Egypt has seen since the 1970s, that now threaten the country’s authoritarian regime.”

No One is in Charge – Everyone is in Charge


Yet, through the coverage of this historic uprising, you learn there is no one leader in charge. Instead, a spontaneous community of protestors has literally linked arms in the “march of millions.” They have coalesced around a unified theme – changing the regime. They want better lives for themselves. It’s as simple as that.

As one my favorite leadership gurus, John Kotter says, “leadership is about coping with change.”  By his definition, Egypt’s long-time ruler Hosni Mubarak failed to recognize the terrain shifting under his feet. He lost his leadership role, not because he was overthrown by another leader or in a military coup, but because power had spontaneously transferred to rule by the community. Now he’s being forced out and it’s gotten ugly and brutal as he tries to hang on to power, at least for now.

In the U.S., the Tea Party movement is another community that emerged and coalesced around the common goal of bringing change to government they thought had become too big and intrusive.  Luminaries like Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh at first appeared to assume the mantle for the Tea Party, but no one single leader has emerged.  Yet, loosely affiliated local Tea Party groups are toppling existing office holders and pushing through changes in how cities, states and the federal government operate.

What This Means for Business Leaders

So what has this got to do with our business leaders as they “cope with change,” as Kotter puts it.  Anybody who ever doubted that the old “command and control” model is dead just needs to examine the paradigm shift in Egypt and U.S. politics. My view is that the corporate CEO is now just another member of the broad community in his or her organization. Companies that openly invite employees to share their ideas for innovation to make the organization smarter, more competitive and more profitable will be the big-time winners.

The Journal Register Company is a great example of how a company unleashed employees to give it a new lease on life.  The company owns 170 publications, including 18 daily newspapers in major markets including Philadelphia, Detroit and Cleveland. In a blog post to employees in December, CEO John Patton wrote:

“Folks, in 2010 you proved that a tired, old, broken down and bankrupt newspaper company like the Journal Register Company could be turned around. You proved that a company’s strength resided in its employees and not its infrastructure of buildings, trucks and I.T. The wonderful Ben Franklin Project proved that determined employees could find the strength and energy to innovate — and you published daily newspapers and websites using only free web-based tools. You proved that while many in the newspaper industry might be devoid of ideas you were not and the ideaLab was born.”

Google is another company that carves out time for employees to go off and think about new ideas. Look where they are.

The revolt in Egypt is a vivid and brutal example that leadership by fiat is dead. Anyone disagree that we’re experiencing a new leadership paradigm?

Leave a Reply


  1. Wow, this is a powerful post with a strong, original point of view. I completely agree with your premise. To expand on your point, I think the leveling of leadership also leads to the integration of departments. Social media is forcing companies to address customers from various angles and to coordinate their external outreach through internal information sharing. If we put this in visual terms, organizations are moving from linear to circular. The greening of companies also fits in. It’s also interesting from a spiritual perspective. A circle is recognized as positive energy, while a straight line represents negative energy. This is why in the practice of Akido–which is a martial art that focuses on defense, not attack–all the motions are circular. We are certainly living in interesting times.

  2. Thanks, Amy, for your thoughtful comments. Jeremiah Owywang, in his widely reported study “Career Path of the Corporate Social Strategist” also makes the bold prediction that the corporate strategist role will fade into the background as social media becomes a “ubiquitous communication channel among consumers and companies.” What now is a centralized function in either Communications or Marketing will instead be managed at the brand level and across the organization.

  3. Thanks Jeannette for the mention.

    It is not uncommon for members of the Traditionalists (Mubarak is of that era…born on the heels of depression and living during world wars) and Baby Boomers (born from 1945-1964) to feel that a command and control style of leadership is the way to go…that we need a person who makes the decision at the end of the day. What this shows me is that there is a DIFFERENT way to lead, and I don’t know which is going to work.

    In leadership, most leaders crave a “self directed” team, but it is not often that a leader can move from the top-bottom thinking. I hope if anything that the leadership gurus in our world are watching this model evolve in the streets of Cairo so that we can begin looking at alternative ways of leading in today’s world. Because of technology, the way people both lead and follow is so different than from the 1920s. In the year 2020, we will be passing the century mark after some of the early world wars and of people being led as if they were in a military hierarchy. So, it is time to see things evolve in our world of leadership, and just leave it to Gen Y to make that happen. They are our largest segment of the population on a global level, so just by their sheer numbers, they can do what they did in Cairo anywhere in the world. So, watch out world! Here comes Gen Y!

  4. Thanks, Bea. Technology is enabling change at a pace unthinkable before the Internet. And Gen Y is fully vested in social networks. They understand how to leverage this new paradigm. I agree. It’s going to be interesting.

  5. Thank you for your insightful post on the way the turmoil in Egypt reflects leadership changes that we all need to be aware of. It’s certainly a wake-up call for all of us to be aware that the old leadership ways will no longer work for the good of mankind.

  6. Thanks, Dolores. It’s exciting but scary to undergo a seismic change in how are things are done. But that’s what we’re experiencing in Egypt and it’s spreading to the rest of the Middle East (and the world).

  7. Outstanding article, Jeannette. Really. There is change in the air, most definitely and it’s fitting that the people of Egypt are finding new ways to be heard through social media. It goes to show that when the people want something so bad, they’ll risk their lives to have it, so those left behind can enjoy a new life. I loved how you connected the events in Egypt with the shifting of the leadership paradigm. I look at companies like Google, Best Buy and Pixar Studios and marvel at what true leaders are doing to build the employees up and give them the power to lead themselves.

  8. I love this post Jeannette – it’s your best work yet. I couldn’t agree with you more and also believe C.E.O.s themselves are just part of a larger community. Social media has changed the world for the better and will continue to do so. Government, politics, management, corporate response….they’ll never be the same. Simply a dream come true.

  9. Catherine – thanks for the very nice compliment. I hope that more companies will move faster towards this new paradigm. Just imagine if more companies unleashed employees to contribute their innovative ideas for change.

  10. Great post, Jeannette. You pulled together this seismic trend happening across disparate areas of the world and tied it all together and back to social media, which we are all interested in. Great points and a lot of insight here. Thanks for sharing these excellent thoughts about rule by community and implications for the business community as well as social world. We’ll be staying tuned for more of same by Gen Y!