image by ortizmj12, flickr artist

one of the higher-ranking members at booz allen has an internal blog titled, “lead, or get out of the way!”

i certainly appreciate his willingness to to pass on the knowledge that he has learned over his distinguished career — and in such a contemporary form — but i have to say that i think it’s wrong.

at least in the innovation age it is.

i’d like to change my colleague’s statement to become “lead, then get out of the way!” and here’s why…

the old notions of what leadership is all about work for the old notions of what

business is all about: well defined, well documented, and well understood challenges that are solved through controlled, repeatable processes. but increasingly, the challenges we face in business are open-ended ones that we’ve never faced before. there are no blueprints for solving these problems. there are no repeatable processes. in order to meet these challenges, it’s going to take someingenuity from a lot of free-thinking, self-motivated individuals.

to lead in such an environment, it’s going to take a different kind of approach from the generally understood form of leadership which is “get behind me, and i’ll take you there”. the ideas and approaches to solving today’s issues don’t come from the top, but rather they bubble up from the bottom. a true leader in the innovation age understands this new dynamic.

leaders will always be responsible for putting their people in the right positions to succeed; that much will always be true. leaders will still be responsible for setting the strategic direction for an organization, and they’ll need to build their organizations to support that vision. this is the crux of leadership in the innovation age: filling your organization with the right people.

but once you’ve articulated your vision and built your organization, it’s time to step away from it all. your job — from here on out — isn’t to lead, but to support. provide the necessary tools for success — be it training, capital, mentorship, or even just lending an ear — and try your very best to not get in the way.

don’t tell people that they have to work on something else other than what they want to be working on. don’t tell people that they can’t use a certain set of tools or technologies. don’t ever balk at an idea because of whom or where it came from. don’t get too focused on what your current strategy is (it might be obsolete now). don’t let yourself, your plan, or your project become bigger or more important than the overall success of your organization.

forget your previous notions of what leadership is because they don’t work anymore. get out of the way! people are going to do some amazing things, if only you’ll let them do it.

don’t spoil it.