Nov 02, 2010

At RCLA, Bertelsmann Foundation Previews Study on Web Developments and Leadership

An upcoming report from the Bertelsmann Foundation in Germany offers an analysis of Web trends in the context of an increasingly networked society and more collaborative approaches to leadership. The study identifies the implications of these combined trends for organizations - and for organizing - to enable leaders in all sectors to anticipate and adjust to new realities and leverage emerging possibilities for heightened effectiveness.

The study, written by Grady McGonagill, EdD, with Tina Doerffer will be available on the Bertelsmann Foundation's Web site in mid-November. Ms. Doerffer presented an overview of findings at an informal discussion at the Research Center for Leadership in Action on November 2 as part of the lead-up to the study's release.

In a synthesis of publicly available information and existing research, the study examines the impact of the Web on leadership and organizations in the business, social, and government sectors, and explores the implications for leadership. The purpose of the study is to provide examples of pioneers in order to encourage and enable leaders in all sectors to anticipate and adjust to new realities and leverage emerging possibilities for heightened effectiveness.

The soon-to-be-released study identifies the following key impacts:

  • New Leadership Paradigm: Numerous forces combine to give momentum to a shift away from one-way, hierarchical, organization-centric communication toward two-way, network-centric, participatory, and collaborative leadership styles.
  • Constraints: The Web increasingly requires organizations to adapt to new conditions (such as great ease of connecting and dramatically lower costs of collaboration) as well as to a co-evolving cultural shift (to a culture of openness, transparency, and collaboration), reinforced by the arrival of Millennials in the workplace.
  • Opportunities: The Web offers new possibilities for impact to traditional organizations (such as two-way communication with stakeholders and creating ecosystems that enable support and collaboration) as well as possibilities for getting things done that do not depend on organizations (free agent activity, and mobilization of networks). The Web is also fostering emergence of a new global commons.
  • Costs and Concerns: The Web is leading to the destruction or downsizing of many organizations, causing upheaval and job loss. It also raises concerns about the security, quality and overwhelming quantity of information; about loss of hierarchical control and preservation of institutional boundaries; and about decline of individual ability to concentrate and maintain privacy.

These new realities are putting additional pressure on leaders in all sectors to move away from approaches that rely on maintaining unilateral control over decisions, information, and participation; and are instead encouraging approaches that embrace the open, interactive and inclusive culture of the Web.

For those organizations and individuals that are able to rise to the occasion, the rewards are tangible. The report cites numerous examples in each sector of that demonstrate the power of Web tools to increase organizational cost-effectiveness. And it documents signs that the Web is fostering the emergence of a fourth sector in the form of a virtual global commons.

Whether the cumulative impact of these changes is positive or negative is hotly disputed. The authors of the report side with the optimists. They are more impressed by the potential of the Web to contribute than they are fearful of the concerns, even though they take seriously the many cautions that have been noted.  Beyond dispute is the reality that the Web is coming.

For further information contact: grady@mcgonagillconsulting.com (author) and tina.doerffer@bertelsmann-stiftung.de (co-author)

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