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Three waves of Leadership

Photo Credit: Atos International via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Atos International via Compfight cc

“One key to successful leadership is continuous personal change. Personal change is a reflection of our inner growth and empowerment.”
— Robert E. Quinn

Leadership is an ever changing practice for organizations of all size. As our world has changed so has the leadership styles required to lead people. As we look back on our history of mankind we see how the basics of organization and communication are fundamental parts leadership. We are going to discuss three distinct waves of leadership and each of their pros and cons. As we discuss these look at each one in the context of the time it was initiated in. Technology plays an important role in the communication aspects of each style.

Industrial Age Leadership

In the factories that cropped up in many areas during the industrial age, leadership was about managing the processes and systems. In 1909, Frederick Taylor published “The Principles of Scientific Management”, where he lays out many of the principles that we attribute to this period. Taylor proposed how each job needed to be simplified down to increase productivity. He pioneered “time and motion” studies of output, and he encouraged pay to be determined by productivity. For instance, Taylor worked for a US steel company and studied shoveling and the types of shovels used.

This philosophy focuses on one right way to do every task in a scenario. This removes autonomy and encourages rigid rules-driven organizations. The workforce is not required to be highly educated and does not feel engaged in this type of work. Taylor believed the employees were only motivated by money. Teamwork is not encouraged in his system, each person has a simple job and there is no collaboration

Coming out of the industrial age this philosophy was helpful for manufacturing environments. This approach is rarely used anymore even in manufacturing environments where it originated. The workers in this system felt little engagement to the group and corporation. All employees were motivated in the same way via pay. Taylor’s studies led to other breakthroughs in management. Management and employees began to learn new ways to collaborate toward goals, this lead to the next wave.

Information Age Leadership

In the information age, the approach management changes to incorporate individual reasons for working. People are empowered reach the organizational goals and encouraged to use all their distinct abilities. This in stark contrast to the one size fits all approach in management in Industrial Age Leadership.

There is an emphasis placed on increasing the competitive advantage by unlocking the potential of the organization. Each person is encouraged to use their creativity and initiative to meet the goals of the organization. Although the goals of work are still fixed outcomes and visions.

Alliance Age Leadership

Alliance Age Leadership increases the level of collaboration amongst the individuals. Leaders in this wave look for ways to unleash untapped potential and coach the team to see new markets and opportunities for expanding business. Each team member is guided to add their unique perspective.

As our work world has evolved over the years leadership has changed to respond to the changing realities. As the workforce has changed so has the technology and leaders have had to keep pace. When I entered the workforce in 1996 email communication was just starting to be used in the corporate world. This communication medium took a long time to develop into a powerful tool to aid leadership. As new technologies are embraced organizations test out their uses and it has effects on leadership. In our last wave, Alliance Age Leadership is heavily affected by the collaboration tools now available on the internet.

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