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Scott Eblin offers his take on lessons in the news and his advice on your pressing leadership questions.

Are You Ready to 'Connect and Collaborate?'

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I’m about halfway through “How” by Dov Seidman, and I find his overarching point compelling — that in a world of radical transparency, how we do things matters as much as or more than what we do. My big takeaway so far is that organizations and society are shifting from a command-and-control model, toward one that relies on connection and collaboration.

Examples of connect and collaborate replacing command and control are everywhere. Some of those examples, like the Arab Spring protests, involve the highest of stakes and don’t come without resistance from those who’ve had historic control. Other examples are sort of silly, but still telling.

For instance, you might have heard about NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski tweeting from the track of the Daytona 500 earlier this week. A car had collided with a maintenance vehicle and 200 gallons of fuel caught fire. (Amazingly, no one was seriously hurt.) While he was parked on the track, Keselowski pulled out his smart phone, took a picture of the fire and tweeted it to his 65,000 Twitter followers along with commentary about what was going on. When the race resumed a couple of hours later, he had more than 200,000 followers. Did he break NASCAR rules by tweeting from his car? The people in charge, knowing a fan builder when they see one, apparently didn’t care. As someone observed, Keselowski is a “digital native” and completely gets how to use technology to build a community. So did the Google exec and others in Egypt who used social media to organize the Tahrir Square protests.

For those of us involved in supporting leaders in creating the organization of the future, this is a seismic shift. Based on my own experience, I would argue that we’re going to have to look outside our own demographic cohorts to make this work. Here’s why I say that.

People over 40 more or less grew up in the command and control model of leadership. For instance, I learned a lot about leadership in the Boy Scouts where you move from assistant patrol leader to patrol leader to assistant senior patrol leader to senior patrol leader. The chain of command is very clear. It’s a lot like the traditional org chart you still see in lots of organizations. Information flows down easier than it flows up.

People of my sons’ generation (they’re 18 and 22) have grown up as digital natives who use technology to connect and collaborate with others to get stuff done. For instance, my 22 year old, Andy, used to spend a lot of time in middle school and high school playing a massive, multi-player online game called Planet Side. It used to drive me crazy, to be honest. Now, I realize he was learning leadership skills by playing the game. Planet Side involved organizing players around the world to collaborate and coordinate their efforts to achieve the same goal at the same time. As a 14 year old, Andy was influencing older people to join his team, share ideas and win the game together. Last year, I saw that virtual leadership style play out in the physical world when he helped organize 900 plus students at James Madison University to participate in a day of service.

So, what does this mean for those of us who are trying to get stuff done in our own organizations? I think it means that we have to set things up so connection and collaboration are encouraged. A big part of that is going to depend on connecting the digital natives with the non-digital natives so each group can learn from the other. Doing that successfully will require a suspension of the strongly held prejudices that people in one generation often have about another.

What are you seeing in your organization? Are you seeing a shift from command and control to connect and collaborate? What are you doing to facilitate the transition from one approach to the other?

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

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