Leadership Under Change – Equality Not Subordination

In the transition from the industrial age to the age of knowledge work, the relationship between employees and their organization changes fundamentally. Dependent workers increasingly become independent knowledge workers who carry their means of production in their heads. The organization is therefore more dependent on knowledge workers than vice versa. In this transition, the network replaces the hierarchy as the leading organizational principle. Leadership is therefore no longer based on subordination and obedience, but now aims at the self-leadership of the people entrusted to it.

For a long time, leadership aimed at obedience. Children were (and unfortunately still are) educated at home and at school with the aim of integration into society and its organizations. And this integration meant and means essentially subordination. Although the impermeable estates of the realm of the Middle Ages are a thing of the past, the organizational principle of hierarchy has been preserved because of the possibility of one’s own ascent, which accompanied the Enlightenment. No ascent without hierarchical order. In the course of industrialization with its large corporate structures, this principle experienced a significant expansion and differentiation. Hierarchy was and is the dominant organizational principle of the industrial age.

Knowledge workers cannot be managed as subordinates; they are associates. They are seniors or juniors but not superiors and subordinates.

Peter F. Drucker, Management’s New Paradigm, 1998 

Already in 1959 Peter F. Drucker coined the term “knowledge worker”, whose work essentially consists of thinking up and creating something entirely new. For this purpose, knowledge workers work with their knowledge and thereby generate new insights and new knowledge. These workers carry their means of production in their heads. Therefore the organization is more dependent on them than vice versa. At the time of Frederick Winslow Taylor, the workers were unskilled and the manager was the expert who used their labor as productively as possible. But today’s knowledge workers are now experts themselves and they rightly expect “species-appropriate” to be lead as equals.

Leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science of management says is possible.

Colin Powell

The principle of hierarchy in the industrial age is now followed by the principle of network in the age of knowledge work. Leadership is no longer based on subordination and obedience, but on the self-leadership of the people entrusted to it. Leadership provides orientation for the knowledge work and the knowledge workers. Leadership beyond subordination and obedience is therefore more important than ever. But the chess master is obsolete, the gardener is in great demand today. Good leadership creates a framework in which people and their ideas can unfold in the pursuit of a common purpose.

Leadership is the art of giving people a platform for spreading ideas that work.

Seth Godin

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