Please read this blog post by Kat Meyer. It really got me thinking not only about the ‘leadership vacuum’ in publishing today, but more importantly how the internet is changing our notions of leadership. Specifically, it got me pondering the notion of how internet communication mechanisms – whether they be social networks, chat rooms, blogs, Twitter, or whatever – are changing the entire paradigm of leadership.
If you think about it, we in society take leadership from fairly rigid hierarchical structures. The structure may be your family or your church or your place of employment, or your city, state, or federal government. In some of those structures we may be leaders and in others we may be followers.
Leaders tend to be ‘in charge’ of leading very specific groups of people, and they tend to become leaders because they either started the structure (like a family or small business) or they were elected or promoted into it by people further up the hierarchical ladder.
On the internet, leaders are no longer bound by these traditional structures. What emerges on the internet are ‘thought leaders’ – people we want to listen to and follow by virtue of the fact that we are in alignment with their ideas. Leaders in this paradigm are made in the most egalitarian way – they are made because we choose to follow them, not because we exist in a structure where the leadership is defined for us.
Thought leaders don’t require a pedigree, or any special training. They only need ideas that other people think are interesting and insightful. Anyone who has the courage to speak up on the internet can be a leader. It doesn’t matter whether a person is scrubbing bathrooms at the local McDonalds or the CEO of a major corporation. The only thing that gives a leader power is the people that choose to follow them.
Another thing about leadership on the internet is that leadership is no longer hierarchical - its relational. There is no one single individual who sets the direction of the masses following them. People follow many people all at the same time often on the same topics. They then choose the best ideas from all of them and come to their own conclusions.
I believe that this truly free society is why we are seeing the crash in mainstream media, like television, radio and print news organizations, as well as magazines and other structured information services. There is a quiet revolution going on. People are rebelling against the notion that others are making decisions about what they read and listen to, and what stories are important to them. Instead they are looking for the new voices of reason; the new leaders to point them in a direction and help them find the things that are of the most interest.
The new leaders act as information filters, helping the people that follow them sift through the myriad of information floating around and pointing them toward new ideas – and possibly even new leaders.
So, as I see it, the traits of the ‘new’ leader are:
1. The courage to stand up and take a leadership role
2. A Platform from which to lead (a blog, website, or social network page)
3. A message that consistently resonates with other people
4. The understanding that they exist in the service of and at the pleasure of the people that follow them
5. They are comfortable not being the only leader, and actively promote the ideas of other leaders
6. They are comfortable with the idea of power without authority
7. They are comfortable with the idea that there are no boundaries to their leadership
Anyone care to stand up?