We are all leaders (even the ridiculous)

Week eight


I took a voiceover class this week simply because I was interested. Coincidentally, or not given a valuable lesson often resonates in multiple areas of life, many of the takeaways for the voice class echo my present thoughts and final reflections on the past eight weeks of my doctorate program. Considering key learnings, the role of leadership in the digital age and the various resources consumed throughout, the following points spring to mind:

  • Technology made the world flatter, yet peaks and valleys still remain. How they look and how easy they are to traverse depends on where you begin.
  • The words and knowledge do not do the work. Your tone and actions do.
  • There are new tools everyday. You do not need to work harder or smarter, which implies you were doing neither in the first place, but you may need to work differently.
  • You are not striving to be declared good whether as an artist, businessperson, human or leader. Know what you have, and own what you are.

In some ways, I end where I began. The Siberian unicorn does not look like the mythological one, but it was nonetheless a unicorn. Leadership takes many forms, and does not always appear as we expect it to either. Technology, particularly as applied to leadership, can be used to achieve positive and/or negative outcomes, and in almost all cases, amplifies the benefits and/or consequences of either usage.

The growing movement to redefine leadership, or expand its definition, is not necessarily offering us a new definition. The Jesuits faced parallels to our digital age approximately 450 years ago. They believed then that everyone is a leader, leading at all times, with leadership springing from within rather than bestowed upon (Lowney, 2003). I appreciate Martin’s (2015) thoughts on the need to redefine leadership as moving from the role of hero to host. We have been too long caught up in the cult of personality, of leader as hero, making all others followers. While everything human is cyclical to a degree, modern context moves us toward the more inclusive, expansive, and correct definition. Technology connects us and speeds up change. Formerly obscure leadership becomes more visible. There is an even greater need to adapt and remain flexible.

There were also surprises between the beginning and end. Traditional, organizational Knowledge Management as we knew it may be dead, but it exists now in another form. Knowledge lives in and is increasingly created by the network (Weinberger, 2011). Instead of knowledge management, it is more aptly today knowledge leadership. The Internet is changing the nature of work for many (the voiceover class offering yet more proof, as the industry pro teaching it described spending four to five hours once upon a time for an audition that now requires mere minutes). However, that does not mean it has touched all roles. At least, it has not touched them all yet and certainly not equally. Husband’s (2017) wirearchy perfectly describes the shift away from hierarchical organizational structures and legacy keepers of knowledge. Martin (2015) discussed this as well in describing the leader as host. And while I have long been a technology fan, I would not say I was blind to the pitfalls. However, I considered in a deeper way than ever before just how dangerous technology can be if we do not take the time now to implement ethics. It feels daunting, imagining working to conceive an ethical framework that the world would agree to, with sufficient oversight ongoing. But the alternative is chaos.

Quite a few of Martin’s (2015) ideas regarding leadership continue to bounce around, writing this final class post. The author quoted Drucker regarding the difference between management and leadership: “Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things.” The notion of leaders as managers, and how or even if we distinguish this, came up in my world as recently as today. I am attending an internal development class on extraordinary performance. We were shown in it photos of Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, and Michael Jordan and asked to comment on characteristics that make these three extraordinary. Words were flying. When then asked a pointed question as to whether these three were senior leaders, some members of the class defaulted to the old definition, saying “no” because they did not manage people as a result of title or lead anyone officially.

Martin (2015) discussed also our practice of venerating winners. This is everywhere, from our presidential election to those often rewarded in business. I find it remarkable to see it even in small, inconsequential acts. For example, I note our quirky, human habit of clapping for winners, even winners of raffle prizes. Raffle winners have done absolutely nothing to earn their reward other than show up, but yet, it seems we are compelled to applaud them. Maybe we simply cannot stand the silence, but once I started watching for this, I have seen it occur in the last 15 out of 15 raffle situations at which I have been present. And while humanity does love a good underdog story, the caveat is that we love the underdog who becomes a winner. We either do not hear or do not care about the ones who do not.

Leadership in the digital age is more of that which was always useful. It is collaborative. It facilitates knowledge transfer to build individual and collective knowledge. It is agile and can adapt as new situations and unforeseen opportunities and challenges arise. It is not without its cautions though. Again quoting Shirky (2014), “Abundance breaks more things than scarcity.” We are in a relatively abundant age. When it feels as though resources are many, we risk laziness. We risk losing knowledge. We risk being ill prepared when abundance does break something. Despite the awareness and some caution leaders must have in the digital age, I end on an overall positive note. Our view of leadership is trending toward diverse, and technology is helping us get there. Leaders are responsible for the present and future, and the good news is, we are all leaders and therefore all responsible. This is true however ridiculous we leaders might sometimes look.


Husband, J. (2017). What is wierarchy? Wirearchy. Retrieved from http://wirearchy.com/what-is-wirearchy/

Lowney, C. (2003). Heroic leadership: Best practices from a 450 year old company that changed the world [Kindle version]. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com

Martin, M. (2015, December 4). A deep dive into thinking about 21st century leadership. The Bamboo Project. Retrieved from http://www.michelemmartin.com/thebambooprojectblog/2015/12/work-in-progress-the-leadership-lab.html

Shirky, C., & Chui, M. (2014, March). The disruptive power of collaboration: An interview with Clay Shirkey. McKinsey&Company. Retrieved from http://www.mckinsey.com/industries/high-tech/our-insights/the-disruptive-power-of-collaboration-an-interview-with-clay-shirky

Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know: Rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t the facts, experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room [Kindle version]. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com/