E-leadership and Un-Hierarchy
By Judy Olian**
Organizations have gone digital in their information sharing and exchange. More digital exchanges mean less face-to-face contact. This has implications for leadership and hierarchies in organizations.
Employees have come to rely on open access to digital information -- they expect to have the information at their fingertips, and to use it rapidly as a communication and collaboration tool, and as a competitive weapon. They are frustrated when they encounter barriers to open information access - whether these barriers are structural, technical, or human. Yet when organizations reengineer to enable liberal information access and exchange, these technical capabilities are often way ahead of the readiness of other organizational and human structures to cope with the implications of such change.
One of the most critical of these needed changes is in the nature of leadership. The leaders of such fast moving, digitized organizations must be comfortable as drivers and agitators of change. They must cope with the paradox of serving as evangelists of information access and openness, while at the same time fiercely protecting intellectual assets -- people and ideas - who are free to walk with their ideas.
The notion of hierarchy loses much of its meaning in open digitized environments. Leaders no longer preside from the top of a pyramid, nor can they legitimately restrict access to information as the basis for their power. There are fewer trappings of power in open information networks, and the power of personalities is often eroded in virtual, or non face-to-face environments. You sense these leaders more than you see them. Information access to the highest decision makers is automatic, at the click of a button, and the role of gatekeepers is eroded. In this un-hierarchy, information is deliberately democratized to the lowest levels so that even junior employees are empowered and informed to provide rapid response, without needing to request information or authority from "the powers upstairs".
E-leadership and un-hierarchies, products of the digital revolution, do not suit everyone's style, particularly those who thrive on restricting information or access. Consider this, when building your e-leadership team.