In a workforce dominated by Millennials, both leadership and the tools available to those seeking to effect change have been revolutionised.
Modern leadership is effectively a partnership of grassroots change and influencers who sponsor from the top. It is Brittany Higgins exposing her alleged assault (and its alleged political cover up) that sparked the March 4 Justice protests nationwide. It is the MeToo movement which began with a hashtag from social activist Tarana Burkeand.
It wasn’t a career politician spearheading a global push for change on climate policy. That title goes to a teenage schoolgirl called Greta who garnered the attention of the European Parliament and subsequently the United Nations. Or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: a young Hispanic American woman who (after then President Donald Trump) became the most talked-about US politician in just her first term in Congress. Her accomplishments in driving change include the eviction of retail giant Amazon from Queens.
This is how leadership works today. Your age, gender, title, culture or experience no longer matter. Real leadership is all about your actions and behaviours as well as your attitudes. Today 140 characters are far more powerful than an army of 140 people. Leveraged leadership has become the most powerful tool of any leader.
Leveraged leaders start with a clear and simple vision and message for change. They tell powerful personal stories and paint a picture of what a new future could look like. They make their vision and message easy to share and their followers – those raving fans – oblige by sharing that message both in person and online. Those fans in turn are creating their own movements and organisations that live beyond the leaders themselves.
Movements like MeToo have become charitable foundations and initiatives. Just look at the Time’s Up Foundation and its work to create “workplaces that are safe, fair and dignified for everyone”; or the School Strike 4 Climate Change Australia initiative that brings together students “striking from school to tell our politicians to take our futures seriously and treat climate change for what it is: a crisis”.
Next come sponsors who assist leveraged leaders to fast-track real and global impact. Sponsors are influential figures in their own right. They are willing to become your personal advocates and back your cause. The application of sponsors is the same at any scale: from wanting to make change at a global scale right down to getting ahead in your career. The sponsor and emerging leader combination works so well because as Cambridge-educated economist and Columbia University professor Sylvia Ann Hewlett points out, they are aligned to the same mission and the relationship is mutually beneficial.
A sponsor has a powerful network and significant influence at senior levels garnered through a notable career in their particular industry. Yet the generally lack the time capacities of the emerging leader to create the movement for change. Meanwhile the emerging leader can leverage the sponsor’s trusted relationships and create buy in among the sponsor’s raving fanbase, both which were previously inaccessible to the emerging leader.
The final instrument in the leveraged leader’s toolchest is technology. It is the oxygen essential to fuel the fire: connecting sponsors and raving fans with other people and movements in an instant. Technology empowers fans to rally around an idea and use their power in numbers to heap pressure on traditional leaders to implement change.
The old rules of leadership are fast going the way of the cassette or dial-up internet. Leaders today don’t need carefully crafted networks spanning decades or an impressive title to yield power and gain credibility. Leaders today need to be leveraged. And that leverage comes from a simple three-pronged approach: creating a clear message and a powerful narrative; connecting with a mission-aligned sponsor to garner influence at the top; and amplifying that message using what is now basic technology.