The Destruction Of Leadership As We Know It

Kevin Rudd (right) and Julia Gillard (left) at...

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Digital technology empowers and it destroys. As the legacy silos entrench themselves and become more polar in their approach the silos start to crumble. It happens in business and more of that later. As is incredibly visible right now, it happens in politics.

Sometimes those silos are not really about the leader or the policy but about the system itself.

Look at what is happening right now in Australia, in the US, in the UK, and in North Africa right now.

In Australia only a few years ago John Howard finally lost his grip on power as a result of the rise of Kevin 07, powered by a social media campaign, at a time when half the population still hadn’t heard of FaceBook. Of course he wasn’t the first. Just before him Obama had raised more money in a campaign than anyone in history, all driven on the web.

These two leaders came in on a wave of expectation and euphoria. Finally two leaders who created more division than could have ever been thought possible, George W Bush and John Howard, were retired to the bench and two progressive new leaders came in – and these new leaders were unashamedly from the left.

Kevin Rudd created a level of antipathy with the mining industry that really runs Australia that motivated them to get rid of Mr Rudd. It doesn’t take a whole lot, it appears, to change a leader. All you have to do is to have enough money which buys influence and causes the hollow men of politics to worry about whether they will have a pension or not. They start pushing for change and then we get Julia Gillard.

However changes of leadership actually hide the real drivers of change that are now present in our society.

The thing that is the primary change maker is digital communications. It is causing a fundamental shift of power. The political support for change that was motivated to raise money and then elect Obama, the networking ability to use twitter to bring together people in Egypt and set off the Arab spring… these are instance of the power of the positive that are inherent in social networks.

However, what has been happening, in case no one noticed, is that there has been a massive growth in take up of digital communications tools by people who are not early adopters. The main stream actually started to “get it”. The people who are in the main stream, those people who don’t sit at the bleeding edge or in the early adopter sector, who had bought computers and who had gone online…. those people actually started to put together all the tools and to start to use them. Main street went main stream.

At the same time people on the extremes of politics started to understand that there was a wealth of leverage to be gained by using the same principles that had led to the rise of the left in the US and Australia. Socialize the raising of money, and socialize the rhetoric of fear, racism and hate. The seeds of fear sown so acutely by Howard and Bush and by Blair, are now producing the bitter fruit of ratbag paranoia in English speaking countries and leading directly to the almost historic low-polling figures of Gillard and Obama.

Each of these people has made a classic mistake of overestimating their own ability to influence the population with the power of their own rhetoric, and the need to share with the public at large a carefully engineered message that is balanced and measured and doesn’t spook the populace. Because each of them, when finally entering the vestibules of power, presumably gets to look at the books and to see the true state of the nation, of the economy, of the world. And it must be a scary thing, indeed.

But each of them at that point, also moves from being engaged with the real power that elected them, and moves to the traditional powers that run countries. Or think they do.

Its no different in business.

The power silos think that they are in power. The truth is that the population, the mass, is now absolutely in control. Except the mass has no idea of the power that it wields. Nor how it is being directed by the eminence grises that are in the back rooms plotting the ideas and stories that will drive emotion and action.

Rupert Murdoch historically was the master of this sort of approach. But he didn’t really get the web, in spite of his pronouncements about not being a digital native. Nice bit of scripting, but he didn’t really get what the web was about. The web is by nature anarchic. It breaks down the silos.

Those who are using it to do so are not necessarily doing it by design. But some of them certainly are. Look at the rise of the Tea Party. Misguided, perhaps. Misinformed, certainly. But absolutely motivated and becoming more powerful by the day.

Yes, the silos of power are crumbling.

One Australian friend of mine in the US and well connected in Australian Liberal politics said to me yesterday he thought that Tony Abbott would already be Prime Minister if it were not for the fact that people in his own party feel that he would be more dangerous in power than Julia Gillard, and would rapidly cause a decline in their own fortunes.

They too, forget that they serve at not just at the behest of the people, but at their whim too.

We are living now in a netherworld of change. The old systems appear to be in place but the world has actually shifted. When you walk down the main street and see the shops the brands all appear to be there and the same. You just don’t see all the digital brands that are even closer to hand, sitting in your pocket, on your smart phone. In politics it is the same. The leaders are on the TV each night making pronouncements. But the real action is taking place in your pocket on your smart phone with the facebook update and the twitter feed that is telling you the salacious, possibly unfounded rumour about who knows what, that will be the thing that you talk about at the water cooler at work tomorrow. These are the things that are driving our political destinies, our economies, our lives.

Leadership is not what we think it is anymore. And until the leaders understand that, they are all going to be doomed to be straw men (and women) whose time in the spotlight will be short lived. Their time in office will go down in history as being a failure of catastrophic proportions. The new poison chalice is leadership, until and unless the leaders understand that they need to lead from within a google engineered world.

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