The mayor of Montreal has resigned following his arrest for corruption charges. Toronto’s mayor is suspected of, among other things, smoking crack cocaine while in office. Stephen Harper is facing numerous scandals as his government appears directionless. Barack Obama is mired in accusations of phone tapping, using the IRS against his political enemies, and ignoring, then lying about a terrorist attack that led to the death of a U.S. Ambassador.
With our politicians continuing to fail us, it is becoming clear that we must look beyond traditional institutions for the growth and progress of our societies.
In an era where government is increasingly decentralized, where trade and information technologies are deteriorating national borders, and where organizations, companies and individuals, more so than governments, shape politics and business– leadership is more important than ever. Yet it has almost become a truism, particularly in the chaotic economic and political circumstances which we face, that we are suffering from a global leadership deficit.
However, leadership has not so much disappeared as it has been democratized. Much like the web has democratized distribution by sharing all of the world’s information easily and allowing it to be accessed globally, the Internet Age has also created a multitude of new leaders in different fields and in different regions that have caused power to dissipate away from traditional elites. While this inherently poses a challenge to the political class, it is a positive development for our societies.
In this world, companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter and Apple have taken center stage and the men and women behind these organizations are increasingly looked to for global leadership– not only for their financial clout, but also for their guidance in the world of ideas and innovation.
Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Sergey Brin and others have reshaped our world in a faster and more impactful way than governments ever could. Now, rather than government playing the role of leader, it is doing its best to keep up with the pace of massive, rapid change.
Yet since national governments will not dissolve in our lifetime, they need leaders who understand the challenges of these new circumstances and who are able to work with, not against, the tide of innovation, disruption and, occasionally, destruction, which comes with this new environment.
In a world that is shaped by the force of Schumpeter’s gale, where companies, industries and fortunes rise and fall before our eyes, several elements are necessary to succeed in a system where leadership has been democratized.
Primarily, openness and adaptability are vital, as without the ability to adjust quickly to new rules and a constantly changing playing field, companies and nations will be left behind. This requires fostering greater citizen engagement, crowdsourcing government policy and business problems where possible by looking beyond the boardroom or the voting booth, and establishing a culture that promotes and rewards creativity.
Secondly, since there is no stemming the tide of globalization or the increasing porousness of national borders, organizations must encourage an environment that stimulates competition, risk taking and growth. For governments, this means creating more efficient regulations and eliminating bureaucratic “red tape” in order for business to succeed and to enable rapid policy transformation in areas such as healthcare and education. For companies, this means focusing on core strengths while not being afraid to reinvent themselves and expand into new markets and new products.
Finally, both businesses and governments require enormous managerial efficiency. Management– while not be confused with leadership– is a critical element for success. A lack of strong management to implement the policies set out by leaders is why companies like Kodak fail, while Samsung remains strong, and why cities like Detroit decline while Medellin prospers.
While political elites struggle in a world that is more competitive than at any time in history, new leaders in all sectors must at once be warriors, philosophers, diplomats and innovators to in order to lead where others have been unable. For without leaders with vision and purpose, our companies will falter, our nations will become sclerotic and we will all suffer.
Facing numerous threats and problems of immense complexity that do not have singular solutions, these men and women must be able to work with one another to help solve these issues. Whether it be maintaining economic growth while ensuring environmental protection; employing new technologies to increase the global food supply safely; or adopting policies from other countries and industries in order to improve competitive advantage and quality of life– our politicians can no longer do this alone.
While political leaders continue to disappoint us, we must embrace the new reality created by the Internet Age. By democratizing leadership, technology now allows a single individual to change our society through non-traditional avenues that were unimaginable a decade ago. This is an incredibly powerful concept, and it is one that is only growing in importance.
Having legions of new leaders in multiple fields will only serve to better our world where others have failed.
Sandy White is an entrepreneur, law student, and former political advisor in Montreal. You can get Sandy’s updates on Twitter @SandyWhiteMTL