A New World Leadership

Reprinted from Strategy & Leadership Magazine

By Brent Filson -

Although world business is undergoing historic changes, the prevailing view of what constitutes business leadership is stuck in the past.  Generally, business leaders view leadership as an order-giving process.  The word "leadership" itself comes from old Norse root meaning "to make go."  Many leaders believe that they must "make" people go by ordering them to do things.    But today's new business realities are requiring new kinds of leadership, leadership that has very little to do with order giving.  Organizations are more competitive when leaders don't make others go but instead have those others make themselves go — when employees are not ordered to do tasks but instead are in the frame of mind and heart that they want to do those tasks.  That "want to" is the cutting edge of competitiveness. 

Order-leadership in business has its roots in the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution.  "Order" comes from a Latin root meaning to arrange threads in a weaving woof.  The captains of the Revolution dealt with the relatively uneducated country people who flocked to their factories by ordering them where, how, and when to work.  The most efficient and effective production methods resulted from workers being "ordered" or ranked like threads in the woof of production lines.  Refined and empowered by the Victorian commercial culture, with its patriarchal power structure and strong links to Prussian military organization, the culture of the order-giver leader reached its zenith in the United States after World War II.

During the post-war years, many U.S. businesses were like ocean liners plowing through relatively calm seas, their leaders, like liner captains and mates, running things by getting orders from superiors, giving orders to subordinates and making sure that those orders were carried out.

But today, with competition increasing dramatically, with the volume and velocity of information multiplying, with the pyramidal structures of order-giving businesses flattening, leaders need skills not akin to ocean liner piloting but white-water canoeing.  Order leadership founders where lines of authority are blurred, information proliferates, markets rapidly changing, and employees are highly skilled and educated.  A new kind of leadership, a new vision of leadership is needed — leadership based on the principle that the leader doesn't make others go by ordering them about but instead has them go by creating an organizational environment in which they prompt themselves to go.  

This new leadership is:  1. Motivational. 2. Action-based.  3. Results-driven.

Motivational: Leaders do nothing more important than get results.  But leaders can't get results themselves.  They need the people they lead to get results.  And the best way for them to get results is not to order them but to motivate them to take action that produces results.  However, the English language misconstrues motivation.  English describes the act of motivation as something one person does to another person.  Leaders can't motivate anybody to do anything.  We communicate — the people themselves motivate.   They motivate themselves.  Only they can motivate themselves.  The motivators and the motivatees are the same people.  We engage in the new leadership when we recognize that we are motivating people to get results only when we set up an environment in which they are actively motivating themselves.  Action-based: A key aspect of the new leadership lies in the first two letters of the word motivation.  Those letters — "mo" — are also found in the words "motion," "momentum," "motor," "mobile," etc.  The words denote action — physical action.  Motivation isn't what people think or feel but physically do.  To engage in the new leadership, leaders must constantly be challenging others to take physical action that leads to results. 

Results-oriented: Motivated people are useless to a business.  People taking action are useless to a business.  Only those people who get results are useful.  The thing is that people who are motivated and taking action are more likely to get results.  Leaders must have a passion to achieve results.  Not just results — but more  results, faster results.  They must permeate the culture of their organization with a more results faster esprit. 

Clearly, many order leaders have  a passion for results.  But as to the new leadership, how people get results is as important as their getting those results.  To get more-results-faster, the order leader demands that people run faster in the organizational gerbil wheel.  But there is a limit to how fast and hard people can work before they burn out.  The new leader, however, recognizes that to achieve more results faster on a continuous basis that people can't simply speed up, work harder, and be straight-jacketed by tight controls.  They must replenish their spirit and energies.  They must slow down to develop and employ powerful processes, and they must challenge others to lead for results.  The new leader's effectiveness is not measured so much by his/her actions but by the effectiveness of the leadership activities he/she challenges others to engage in. 

The recent emergence of interlocking global markets has stimulated a new vision of world commerce, a vision of a single global playing field.  Leaders must match their business activities to the demands of that vision.  But a corresponding new vision of leadership has not emerged.  Stuck with an outmoded vision of order leadership, today's leaders are not seizing the full array of opportunities before them.  When they begin to establish leadership that is not order-driven but is instead motivational, action-based and results-oriented, the world might not beat a path to their door but more importantly, they will beat paths to the doorsteps of the world.


© The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

The author of 23 books, Brent Filson's recent books are, THE LEADERSHIP TALK: THE GREATEST LEADERSHIP TOOL and 101 WAYS TO GIVE GREAT LEADERSHIP TALKS. He is founder and president of The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. – Celebrating 25 years of helping leaders of top companies worldwide achieve outstanding results every day. Sign up for his free leadership e-zine and get his FREE report "7 Steps To Leadership Mastery"