Who's Leading Anyway?

- Leadership in Evolutionary Organisations


Katrina Marshall

Have you ever been asked to participate in a meeting to “co-create a solution”, only to find out afterwards that the whole process was already shaped? Perhaps you have been in the lead of an initiative that needed to create buy-in through some form of involvement theatre.

In our journey of working with organisations that are aiming to become fit for the future and fit for humans, we’ve stumbled over similar behaviour time and time again that made us wonder: Isn’t there a more fulfilling way to interact with each other? If you look at the typical hierarchical organisation – leadership tasks are described with words like “selling in”, “creating buy-in”, “cascading information” and “alignment meetings”.

The never-ending lists of leadership models therefore showcase the best way to do this.

This is not a fun game. It’s a game that makes everyone lose a little – leaders are stuck in endless meeting marathons, feeling overwhelmed by the pressure to take decisions under the assumption that they know it all; while employees are left with little autonomy or control, unable to act upon their best judgement, which is deemed irrelevant.

We don’t think it inspires people, we don’t think it unleashes creativity, and it certainly doesn’t help us all to spend time on the problems most worth solving. As organisations move forward, our perspective on leadership is in dire need of a revolution.

During our exploration of this topic over the last few years, we’ve been reflecting on our experience with the organisations we support whilst reading around 200 of the most recognised leadership books and articles. It has taken us on a journey from Chester Barnard’s “The Functions of the Executive”, published in the late 1930s, to Jim Collins’ “Level 5 of Leadership” in the 2000s to Edgar and Peter Schein’s “Humble Leadership” released in 2018. All the while, we’ve had the following questions in the back of our minds:

  • What is changing in the environment for leadership?
  • How is leadership exercised in evolutionary organisations?