The Evolution of Leadership - Part 3

Jul 06, 2024

(This is the third in a three part series on the Evolution of Leadership.  If you missed parts 1 & 2, you can find at This content is original content created by the author.)

The Era of Given Power – 2000 - Present

Startups have three advantages – agility, energy, and speed. They can quickly adapt to changing times, something that is difficult for big corporations. This created a competitive advantage for small, savvy entrepreneurs as we moved into the 21st century. At the same time, globalization created new opportunities and new competition. To win, you had to move fast. Being second to the finish line often meant being out of luck. What leaders needed was quick results with little oversight. The organizational model naturally shifted from the work team to a more advanced team model - the skilled, disciplined rapid response team – able to quickly adapt to change and opportunity.

Leaders were, in effect, putting the power in the hands of their team to create success – and expectations were very high. Everyone was expected to be a thinker, adapter, innovator regardless of your position. Billions of dollars were at stake. Everyone was expected to have the same energy, drive, and focus as the creator of the startup – relentless hours and complete dedication to the cause. In this environment, the previous era’s leadership model, “managing & motivating people,” died a quick death. There was little time to manage people, and motivating people was reduced to hiring a coach, attending motivational seminars, and  “Everyone Read This Book!”

People had the power in their hands now, and with that power they were expected to manage & motivate themselves - figure things out on your own. Fortunately, lots of information was available. By the early 2000’s, leadership and personal development books, workshops, and coaching exploded, becoming a major part of the information economy. The unspoken model was:

Hire good people, turn them loose, and they will develop themselves.”

It seemed a good idea at the time. It was very optimistic about people. It wasn't until a few years later that we began wondering if it was a sustainable model.

I’m not sure if the 2008 economic collapse (and almost depression) contributed to the need for better leadership and organizational models, or if mounting burnout created a workplace crisis. Whatever the reasons, as we entered the second decade of the Given Power era the cracks in the model of “hire good people. turn them loose, and they will develop themselves” were beginning to show. While self-development works for some people, it did not and cannot create the workforce we need today. Why? Most people are adapters, not self-starters and innovators. The explosion of personality profiles and assessments used in organizations today should have made that obvious to anyone, but it fell on deaf ears in many organizations. Instead of higher performance, the impact was usually higher stress, longer hours, and a new crisis in the workplace – burnout at a much younger age.

 What should have been obvious, but was missed by many leaders was this: 

Continued “doing” without development is not a sustainable model.

We weren’t designed to run a marathon every day. Even the best marathon runners know that rest and recovery is an important part of creating sustained success. If leaders didn’t know it, their team members did. We also we’re designed to work days on end in an pressure cooker. As we hit the second decade of the millennium, the needs of those in the workplace began to shift. They wanted more than a daily sprint to the finish line – only to discover that the finish line had been moved. What they wanted was engagement, development, opportunities, and work-life balance. For those who think this is getting all mushy and feel good, think about the elite military units that keep us safe every day. Think about the elite college athletic teams that consistently win year after year. Think about relationships that thrive and grow over the years. What do they all have in common? They invest time in “developing” so that they can get better at “doing” when it is time to act.

Development is what creates higher performance.

Development is the DNA of Success in the 21st century

In the 3rd decade of the 21st century, the leadership model must shift from “managing and motivating” to “development” if you want to thrive. The world is simply moving too fast for you to keep power in your hands as a leader. To build that workforce you must embrace 5 realities.

  • Reality # 1 - Change is happening at an exponential pace, and it is not slowing down. If anything, it’s accelerating. It is the world we live in.
  • Reality #2 - The faster that change happens, the less that you, as a leader, can physically You naturally become more dependent on your team. Every day you are putting the power in the hands of your team to create results, whether you like it or not.
  • Reality #3 – The more people you add to your team, the less likely they are to see what you see, know what you know, believe what you believe, and want what you want. Everyone comes to your organization with their own set of assumptions and skills. Their assumptions will not fully align with yours, and the more layers you have in your organization, the less impact you have on individuals two steps or more away from you.

If the first three realities feel a little unsettling, the next two should energize you.

  • Reality #4 – People are more capable than they demonstrate. Most people, in the right environment, can improve their performance 15-20% very quickly by shifting how they think and what they do. This means that there is always more capability and capacity within your team than they demonstrated on a daily basis. Just because people don’t automatically see what you see and believe what you believe doesn’t mean they can’t develop the same vision and beliefs. The secret is the model you use to develop them. It’s the model that matters. While development is built on the foundation of information, application and coaching are the key ingredients that turn information into transformation. Information by itself is not enough. Most people will rise to greatness or wallow in mediocrity based on how they are developed.
  • Reality #5 – There is always some assembly required. The final reality is the one that must become etched in your brain forever. There is always “some assembly required.” Leaders often assume that people come to their organization fully assembled. Your job is to find them, hire them, and turn them loose. WRONG! There is always some assembly required – regardless of the person. Only when you embrace this reality can you being developing the workforce you need to thrive today.

In this era of Given Power, the role of the leader changes. Coaching is still something you do, but it is not the leadership model. The role of the leader today is to be a “catalyst.” A catalyst is something that accelerates a process, and the process you are accelerating today is the development of your team. The first step in development is to:

Build the behaviors of growth in your team



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