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Transcript: The CEO isn't the only leader any more

Deborah Ancona from MIT

Talking Management

KARL MOORE – This is Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University with Talking Management for The Globe and Mail. Today I am delighted to MIT's Deborah Ancona.

Good morning, Deborah.

DEBORAH ANCONA – Good morning, Karl.

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KARL MOORE  – One of the things in leadership that you have been looking at recently, that you have been studying, is distributive leadership. What are some of the key ideas behind distributive leadership?

DEBORAH ANCONA – Distributive leadership is a term that we have recently developed that really refers to three particular components to leadership. The first is that it is decentralized so no longer can we rely on that CEO at the top of the organization to do everything. So decentralized leadership means that there are leaders throughout the organization. The idea is how do you mobilize all of those leaders?

The second component of leadership is both individual and collective, that is, there are a lot of individuals who are leading but they are also mobilizing teams and networks in order to make change happen.

The third dimension is that leadership is decoupled. So no longer are we relying solely on people in formal positions of power, it is decoupled from formal roles so that many people who are not in formal positions of power are now leading in today's organizations.

So distributive leadership is all about mobilizing all of those people for the collective good of the organization or to serve organizational goals. What we have found in looking at distributive leadership within organizations is that the role of those leaders is really to help create and sustain the routines that are needed to move today's organizations towards goals of innovation, speed and agility.

In that world the work that people have to do is very organic in nature and so part of what you need leaders to do, first of all, is be entrepreneurs and come up with new product ideas. What you need people to do is to be able to do what we call "creative collisions" and engage in creative collisions with people from different parts of the organizations so that you are blending with organizational capability with market need, with opportunities to make money or to carry forward the organizations goals – whatever those might be.

So leaders in this world are taking products forward, processes forward, but they are doing so with what we call "triple word scores" that is, in their brain, they are thinking, "how can I bring something forward that builds on corporate capability, builds on meeting a market need, and that forwards the goals of an organization?"

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KARL MOORE – So if I am a young leader looking at this world that you are talking about, how do I develop my skill sets to be a distributive leader?

DEBORAH ANCONA – I would say that if you are a young person preparing for this world one, you have to enter this world with what we call "leadership self-efficacy," which is a fancy academic word for leadership confidence. You need to be prepared to walk into the organization and lead without apologizing for that and without being arrogant in that, either side is probably not a good idea, but with the confidence to lead and to be entrepreneurial and suggest new ideas, suggest new processes, to come up with product ideas that you do the market research for yourself and carry forward. The leaders that we see are ones that bring great expertise to the table but also an ability to have this global or strategic mindset and the ability to pull others along with the ideas that they have.

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