How to think about leadership?

Leadership is a hot topic for the good and for the bad. In one side, cultural and human factors are increasingly being considered key in the success of projects and organizations and we can found a growing body of evidences about that. In the other side, leadership is becoming the umbrella for a bubble of several pseudo-theories about personal development and performance that are able to make its way a generate considerable profits to the consultants and “gurus” that promote methods to make “good leaders”. How to think about leadership applying a “zero-bullshit rule” but acknowledging all the intangible and subjective aspects that are key in this subject?

This short text tries to embrace this challenge and it is my introduction to the Leadership Area of the Masters of Design and Innovation of the Istituto Europeo di Design Madrid (IED) where I lead the Master of Strategic Design Labs. Here I present briefly my point of view about: what means leadership in the contemporary world and organizations and which tools and conceptual frameworks are available; which is specific about leading organizations and teams working in the creative economy; how to learn to lead. Some of these topics will be analyzed in more detail in future texts.

Contemporary leadership is not about command-and-control and classical hierarchical structures. Leadership means assuming responsibility for the achievement of the collective goals of a project and/or organization. Everybody in a team needs to be a leader and leadership is a matter of individual and collective responsibility. We need to transform models and styles of leadership understanding leaders as team servants. Managerial styles from efficiency-based, industrial organizations are not adequate for the new-generation enterprises, based in continuous innovation and knowledge production. Uncertainty, continuous change and the ability to adapt and transform become the new normal in the contemporary enterprises and economies. In this new context, listening and dialogue together with strategic vision, and the ability to communicate in  meaningful ways and navigate complex and uncertain environments are the key tools for the contemporary leader.

Complementarily, every industry faces specific changes and needs specific styles of leadership. Strategic designers work, and lead, organizations and teams working in the creative economy. These leaders need to master the choreography of complex processes combining phases focused in creation and innovation (slow) with others devoted to efficient production and delivery (fast). Leading this kind of complex projects and human crowds needs flexibility allowing for autonomy of people that at the same time share a collective vision and mission.

Learning to lead could be only achieved experientially through projects and real experiences. Different concepts, theories and tools related to knowledge production and management, team development, productive / reproductive / affective work, team design and diversity, and agile and innovation methods, among others, are of relevance to facilitate learning. These ideas come from management science and entrepreneurial methods but also from social movements and activism.

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