Book review: Leadershift, by Emmanuel Gobillot

Four main societal trends, argues this author, are transforming the way we live and work.

by Tim Lindsay
Last Updated: 25 Oct 2010

Leadershift: Reinventing leadership for the age of mass collaboration
Emmanuel Gobillot
Kogan Page

Those of you who have been trying to lead your organisation - reading the latest books, attending the relevant conferences, keeping up to date with the current thinking - are dead. Well, not dead actually, but DEAD. It's an acronym and it stands for four underlying trends that evidence the central hypothesis in Emmanuel Gobillot's new book on leadership, punningly entitled Leadershift. (There has been a shift, you see, and it has changed the nature of leadership).

The DEAD letters stand for Demographics, Expertise, Attention and Democracy, and the argument goes that these four major societal trends are transforming the way we live.

The first (and I'm taking this from the 'cheatsheet' in the introduction) means we have 'multiple generations working alongside each other'. The second means that expertise is now as often found and accessed outside the organisation as in it. The third means that employers have to fight increasingly hard, and with decreasing success, to get the 'attention' of their employees, who work for different reasons and have very different attitudes to the workplace. The fourth, that leaders have little direct control over their resources.

These factors mean that organisations are 'communities', held together by an 'intricate and fluid process of relationships', where the leader's role needs to change if he or she is to continue to be able to create 'engagement, alignment, accountability and commitment to the cause'.

Leaders in this brave new world must 'shift their emphasis to the fostering of social engagement by valuing conversations that they might otherwise have deemed wasteful'. And they must be able to 'see mass participation as an opportunity to create value rather than a threat to their existence'.

It's a point of view, and one much in the ether. The idea that 'millennials' (people who came of age this century) have different expectations of work, the organisation they work for and the people who think of themselves as their 'bosses' has been developing for a long time - witness the fact that time off to travel, learn or parent is no longer seen as a blot on the CV.

The notion of work/life balance is now regarded as sad and old-fashioned; there is, after all, only life. The idea that your elders might be better than you at something you grew up with and they learned late(r) in life is laughable.

The book's arrival is timely, because its subject matter is a truth of the commercial environment, developing at different paces in different industries and surely most advanced in internet businesses and the so-called creative industries of design, games development, music and advertising. So, as a diligent reviewer and critical reader, one needs to ask questions. If the central hypothesis is true, is it well evidenced? Are we experiencing it in our own organisations? Is the response advocated by Gobillot persuasive and practical?

It is well evidenced, in the sense that the examples drawn on by the author are often unexpected but nearly always illuminating. Plastic Duck's destructive activity in Second Life and the real-life legal action it provoked is invoked to illuminate the possibility of sabotaging mass-collaboration projects and the power of the community to expel the negative element.

The Wikipedia case history shows what can be created when editorial control is (virtually) conceded to the creating community. The Arctic Monkeys are cited as an example of 'leadershift' in action (which would probably surprise them a lot if they knew). There is a wealth of academic material, adeptly handled to build the case.

Are we experiencing it? Is it a real phenomenon, or a brief and unimportant footnote to the vaster changes being wrought by the internet? All I can say here is that it's real in my company (an advertising agency) and considered significant enough at our holding-company level to be covered in senior management training programmes - which aim to teach 40- and 50-something managers of creative businesses how to deal with the hopes, fears and expectations of millenials.

Is the response advocated by the author compelling? It really is. I found the analysis both convincing and helpful - and the new role of leaders much more aligned with the thinking that has been developing in marketing and advertising over the past 10 years. The leader's role in this new world is (in the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupery) 'not to foresee the future, but to enable it'.

That's a pretty noble calling, however much it might differ from old notions of command-and-control. Buy it, read it, get down with the kids.

Tim Lindsay is president of TBWA\UK & Ireland Group

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