The ability to think beyond our day-to-day and gain perspective on the context in which we operate is an empowering cerebral exercise – and something that is uniquely human. So when engaged in meaning of life conversations with family and friends, I find that the subject often turns to the era of human history that we are currently living through. How will historians describe this time? It will be recorded (in digital format, of course) that in one generation we have seen a shift from an industrial to an information age. This rapid change has had and continues to have a tremendous impact on lives and on our society.
With the shift from industry to information, the world is increasingly complex and connected; the options are endless. Putting my young sons to bed the other night, I thought about the options my wife and I had to fill the evening with…and how much that had changed since we were their ages. Back then, our own parents may have put a record on the turntable, watched a drama on one of the three TV networks, or curled up with a book or the evening newspaper. Now, my wife and I can “virtually” go anywhere in the world from the comfort of our home. We can access millions of digital songs online, watch any type of program on hundreds of cable channels – whether live, from the DVR, or on-demand, or choose to access instant news and information from thousands of sources around the globe. The choices are dizzying…and so is much of our world. To function in this age, we need to be prepared to make sense of complexity and to manage change.
So the question is then not if or when we need to develop and practice new approaches to operating in today’s world, but rather how we should go about doing it. This “how” question can, at least in part, be answered by a change in how we define leadership. We often still hold on to an industrial model of leadership – the person at the top of the organization or society gets things done and everyone else follows – that does not work in today’s day and age. It is time to let go of the old and begin using a new definition for leadership that reflects the reality of the information age.