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What Does Leadership Mean, Today?

If you’re a boss, have the courage to present yourself as a more complex being: as a sinner, not a saint; a fragile identity, not a robust platform; a lively question-mark, not a dead-certain exclamation point.

– Tim Leberecht


Assuming a new leadership role at Gigaom Research has led me to reconsider the premises that underlie the practice of leadership in business, today. Over the coming months I intend to pursue ‘new leadership’ as one major thread in my research agenda.

[Note that I plan to publish my entire research agenda for the next year sometime this month, and I am asking all our analysts here at the new Gigaom Research to do the same.]

One key idea — one that might resonate in the high velocity tech sector where a research firm like Gigaom Research lives and breathes — is that leaders must be more human today than in the past.

This idea is well explored by Tim Leberecht in Leaders Win Trust When They Show a Bit of Humanity, where he wrote

We might think we want our leaders to be machines or heroes. But it’s impossible to trust a person who is always rational, serious, and in control. If you’re a boss, have the courage to present yourself as a more complex being: as a sinner, not a saint; a fragile identity, not a robust platform; a lively question-mark, not a dead-certain exclamation point.

The most effective leaders will show their emotions, employ humor to show their inner workings, and to be open-minded. With regard to the open-mindedness, Paul Saffo’s dictum is ‘strong opinions weakly held‘, which is a near-Taoist approach to triangulating a rapidly changing world:

Allow your intuition to guide you to a conclusion, no matter how imperfect — this is the “strong opinion” part. Then –and this is the “weakly held” part– prove yourself wrong. Engage in creative doubt. Look for information that doesn’t fit, or indicators that pointing in an entirely different direction. Eventually your intuition will kick in and a new hypothesis will emerge out of the rubble, ready to be ruthlessly torn apart once again. You will be surprised by how quickly the sequence of faulty forecasts will deliver you to a useful result.

We should all ‘engage in creative doubt’, whether we are leaders or aspire to be.