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?