Everything You Change Changes Everything

The world is changing. Society is tearing down its system of silos and hierarchy — and jobs of repetition and efficiency are going away. The new system is fast, fluid, and one that is characterized by changemaking. In this new game, everyone plays; everyone is bigger.

I can illustrate the nature of this change based on a similar occurrence within my organization during the 2008 Obama presidential campaign. The experience triggered a personal paradigm shift that flipped my view of leadership on its head.


Everyone Leads

Going into the campaign, I think I would have described myself as a mentoring leader who encouraged the leadership of others. But looking back, my view of leadership was still very much grounded in the one-leader-at-a-time framework that I think most of us carry. I left that experience with a polar opposite view, embracing instead an everyone-leads-in-every-moment outlook.

This was mostly helped by an organizational transformation that occurred over time. Despite what people might think about that campaign and the innovative environment we projected from the outset, we actually grew up traditional; siloed. Ultimately, in our change-on-steroids environment, the one-leader-at-a-time system held together by the silo leaders (we called them department heads) could not keep up with the myriad challenges coming at us. We had to tear the walls down. This freed people in the middle and lower rungs of the organization to lead. Thus, we were transformed into an everyone-leading-in-every-moment system.

With this change, there were some discoveries for me that have shaped my thinking about new leadership for a new era.


Step Into Your BIGness

First, in an everyone-leads environment, there is no room for smallness. You have to bring your full game. The old system of one-leader-at-a-time is based on someone big and everyone else small in any moment. This is a very different game requiring a completely different outlook. Small people can't do big things. That's physics. 

In fact, we were only as big as the smallest among us. I may have been the chief operating officer but my more important role was Chief BIGness Officer. I needed to help everyone around me step into their BIGness.


Tear Down Walls

Second, was the discovery that when walls come down between two sides that don't normally speak, innovation happens. I know people sum up from our 2008 run that we were innovative because of our use of technology or social media. It wasn't the hottest, newest piece of technology that made the Obama campaign innovative.

In this new way of working, people formed fluid, shifting, and evolving teams across those old boundaries to solve problems and seize opportunities. The true value-add in any moment was the new team introduced to meet the ever-changing nature of problems and opportunities.


Everyone A Changemaker

Third, when everyone leads in every moment, the speed of change accelerates relative to our one-leader-at-a-time past. Why? Leaders make change. That is reality. And if you agree that everything you change changes everything, and everyone is doing it — that means everyone is a changemaker.

The stakes for leading with empathy take on new importance in the everyone-leads environment. Empathy-based leadership has to be ever-present because on the one hand, this is a system that is highly interactive, and on the other hand, change must be undertaken responsibly.

When everyone leads, everyone is a changemaker. And in this new game, the old rules won't work. In future posts, I will share the new rules for new leadership — because in this everyone-plays era, EVERYONE should care.


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