Strategy, leading, and networks in today’s word

What does it mean to lead in today’s world? In this article I propose some rules and recipes as discussion materials.

When General Peron published his book Conducción Política [1] (Political Leadership is a key to explain the continuity of Justicialismo in Argentina’s political history), the advocated leading model was typical and characteristic of the XX century: a hierarchical, vertical, and disciplined organization chart. This model came from Eastern and Western ancient historic bureaucracies as well as from the business organization of the industrial era. But even then, leading lessons from such a military and political Argentinean leader were surprisingly similar to current lessons from a US general [2].

The XXIst century has radically changed the panorama and, thus, made previous leadership and management modern models obsolete, the main justification of which was efficiency. Why is this so? In the notes that follow I will list a simple repertoire of reasons that endorse this judgment.

- The new global society has networks besides institutions [3].

- Networks allow people and organizations to operate in new environments that continuously change.

- The XXIst century global society is better connected, with faster rhythms and less predictable outcomes than preceding societies, even then the most modern societies of the previous century. This characteristic of speed and ductility is valid for any sector of society: interpersonal relationships, businesses, conflicts and alliances.

- It is not so much about new tactics or technologies but about the architecture and culture of new organizations.

- Traditional institutions have the structure of a disciplined, hierarchical, and reductive culture (verticality).

- These characteristics were exacerbated in the industrial era, whose motto was “efficiency.” What was then important was the effective execution of known and repetitive processes.

- Today such efficiency is not enough.

- In an interdependent world, the more complicated (literally as well as metaphorically) and effective machine is not capable of adapting to the new complexity.

- Complexity is less predictable than mere complication. A current car engine is very complicated but stable. Instead, social communication networks, financial networks, and subversive networks (terrorism, human and drug trafficking, tax evasion, etc.) are complex and continuously changing and adapting (something like a retrovirus). There are no network mechanics.

- Unpredictability is incompatible with reductionist solutions based on planning. It requires a new approach.

- Prediction (still the ideal model for the social sciences) cannot anticipate contingencies, threats, and challenges; it cannot develop resiliency nor respond to a complex and continuously changing environment.

- Adaptation and flexibility are the functional requirements of any social field.

- Networks are continuously reconfiguring themselves. Networks function very differently from institutions. In institutions there are procedures. In networks there is creativity and improvisation.

- A successful leader today knows very well the inherited command superstructure of any organization he has to lead. But to manage networks and teams, what is needed is a team of teams, a strategy of strategies, that is, a global view of the picture and the objectives set by oneself, without interfering with the initiative and creativity of actors [4].

- The teams that today do research, investment, and production cannot be lead from a traditional central command.

- The relationships among teams have to be similar to those among individuals of the same team. It is a continuous coordinated interaction among teams without rigid schemes

- Which is the function of the central command? It is not about ordering, rather about seeing the totality first and foremost, and, then leading while helping, pruning, fertilizing, and delegating initiative. The leader is not a boss that orders; rather he is someone who seems more like an orchestra director or main gardener than a traditional commander or manager.

- Sharing information in the geographic and cultural dispersion of the current world is indispensable in any flexible organization that wants to survive.

Which would be the ingredients of this new approach? I will list them:

- Transparency (avoiding hidden decisions)

- A common and shared consciousness.

- A leader that acts by example, without giving orders to subordinates.

- Barriers and watertight compartments are dismantled.

- Information and communication continuously flow towards and from a center that adapts and coordinates.

- The function of the center (it was called command before) is to solve the prisoner’s dilemma in game theory, in terms of a complete solution that in the beginning is not accessible to the individual logic [5].

- The development of strong lateral bonds.

- Mutual trust in common tasks.

- Abandon all rigid control.

- Autonomy and initiative without losing contact between the different teams.

- A disciplined practice is only the prelude to a semiautomatic execution.

- The leader is a gardener, not an official.

- The leaders are more needed than ever in the networks’ world, but they will be a new type of leader.

- They cannot know or control everything.

- They are not chess masters but master gardeners.

- It is not about a passive leadership. Au contraire. They do not lead from behind, but from the base and the top at the same time and they circulate continuously.

- Organizations are not mechanical anymore and they turn organic.

All these ingredients can be summed up in a different mental model and a different daily behavior.

He who understands it will succeed even in the apex of a traditional and ancient organization.

As Napoleon used to say, just one example clarifies everything: A traditionally rigid and reactionary organization such as the Catholic Church, today, has given itself a Pontiff that does not pontificate, rather cultivates, trims, fertilizes and lets grow. It has not given itself a general boss, but a main gardener. It is an entire new model that comes (as it is due in a network society) from the least expected corner.


[1] Ver video.

[2] See Stanley McChrystal, Team of Teams. New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, New York: Penguin Books, 2015

[3] See Manuel Castells, La Sociedad Red. Alianza Editorial, 2006.

[4] In the entrepreneurial field see the recent publication by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), Martin Reeves, Knut Haanes y Janmejaya Sinha, Your Strategy Needs a Strategy, Harvard Business Review Press, 2015.

[5] See Wikipedia.

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