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This should be a page for material on the evolving conceptions of leadership in a distributed environment.

See the related entries on Peer Governance (see for subheading in the alphabetic listing of the P2P Encyclopedia), on Leaderless Organizations, and on Voluntary Leadership.


Joseph Rost on the new leadership requirements

From an interview with Russ Volckman, at http://www.leadcoach.com/JRostInt.html

Here is a summary of Rost’s proposals:

(1) Stop concentrating on the leader.

• Get rid of the emphasis on leader traits and personality characteristics.

• Get rid of the lists of leader behaviors.

• Get rid of all tests or inventories for leaders.

• Get rid of the notion that we have to develop leaders.

(2) Conceive of leadership as an episodic affair. Here are some suggestions.

• Don’t train people to think of leadership as good management so that everything a good manager does is leadership.

• Get rid of the notion that leadership is only what works, that leadership is always a successful process, that leadership is high performance…

• Train people to think about the process that leadership is.

• Train people to think of leadership as a specific relationship of people planning a mutually agreeable, real change.

• Have people list the leadership relationships in which they have been participating during a 12 or 24-month period.

(3) Train people to use influence.

(4) Develop people to work within noncoercive relationships. “Noncoercive means that the people in the relationship are able to respond yes or no to an attempt to influence them."

• Train people to base the leadership relationship on mutual influence, not authority or power.

• Help people build relationships around a sense of purpose instead of other more utilitarian objectives.

• Train people to create relationships by having them help people…

Help people understand the nature of real—that is, transformative—change.

• Real Change is almost always political.

• Real change is long term.

• Real change has tremendous symbolic implications, both positive and negative.

• Real change takes place, for the most part, among large groups of people.

(5) Reconstruct people’s basic worldview toward a collaborative orientation.

See also: Joseph C. Rost, “Leadership Development in the New Millennium." The Journal of Leadership Studies", 1993, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 92-110.

Brafman and Beckstrom on the role of catalysts

John Robb:

"Open source insurgencies and resilient communities are both decentralized networks. Critical to the success of both are people that serve as catalysts (like Henry Okah and Rob Hopkins). What do catalysts do? They accelerate growth and effectiveness by increasing the trust and connectivity of the networks they inhabit.

You can find a surprising good examination of the personality attributes and characteristics of catalysts in the book, "The Starfish and the Spider" by Brafman and Beckstrom. Unlike traditional leaders, catalysts don't organize structure, aggregate power, and give direction. Instead, the serve as

  • Connectors. Able to map, mine and connect loose networks of people with similar needs/interests.
  • Onsite helpers and Trust builders. Willing to work with people on the ground in the role of helper. Forges emotional bonds and encourages trust.
  • Supporters. They let the network navigate itself forward by walking away from leadership responsibilities/roles. They trust the network and embrace its ambiguity."


Leadership in Open Innovation Communities

By Lee Fleming (Harvard Business School), David M. Waguespack (University of Maryland):

Rivlin (2003) illustrates how Linus Torvalds (the original author of LINUX) realizes that his authority is technically derived, tenuous, and constantly in need of collective reaffirmation:

His hold over Linux is based more on loyalty than legalities. He owns the rights to the name and nothing else. Theoretically, someone could appropriate every last line of his OS [operating system] and rename it Sally. “I can’t afford to make too many stupid mistakes,” Torvalds says, “because then people watching will say, hey, maybe we can find someone better. I don’t have any authority over Linux other than this notion that I know what I’m doing.” He jokingly refers to himself as “Linux’s hood ornament,” and he’s anything but an autocrat. His power is based on nothing more than the collective respect of his cohorts.”

How Leaders are chosen at IETF:

“One of the principal differences between the IETF and many other standards organizations is that the IETF is very much a bottom-up organization. It is quite rare for the executive leaders within the IETF, the IESG (Internet Engineering Steering Group) or the IAB (Internet Architecture Board) members, to create a working group on their own to work on some problem that is felt to be an important one. Almost all working groups are formed when a small group of interested individuals get together on their own and then propose a working group to an Area Director” (Bradner 1999, p. 49).

It is much the same with other open innovation communities.

Today, an open source software development project is typically initiated by an individual or a small group with an idea for something interesting they themselves want for an intellectual or personal or business reason” (von Hippel and von Krogh 2003, p. 211). This process for Linux was described thus: “ ‘The lieutenants get picked—but not by me,’ explains Torvalds. ‘Somebody who gets things done, and shows good taste—people just start sending them suggestions and patches’ ” (Hamm 2005, p. 66). See also Rosenkopf et al. (2001). (http://orgsci.highwire.org/cgi/content/abstract/18/2/165)

See the source article, Brokerage, Boundary Spanning, and Leadership in Open Innovation Communities for a detailed comparison of the role of brokers compared to the role of Boundary Spanners.

Clay Shirky

See the interview here: Clay Shirky on the New Style of Peer Leadership

Michael Hardt on the Networked Leadership of the New Social Movements

From an interview of co-author Michael Hardt conducted by Allen White for the Great Transition Initiative:

" * You argue for developing movements that invert the traditional structure of leaders-as-strategists and followers-as-local-tacticians. How would this reversal work?

First of all, we do not propose the elimination of leaders. Rather, we reframe leadership as dynamic and temporary, deployed and dismissed by the multitude as conditions evolve. Leaders can serve as tacticians, guiding in a limited context, particularly when special expertise is required or when expediency is essential.

The other side of this framework is more complex and more challenging. How can the multitude develop strategic capabilities to make collective long-term decisions regarding the most critical social issues? This is very close to a longstanding question of political theory: How can people become capable of democracy, a veritable democracy in which all participate equally in collective self-rule? That is one element required, in fact, for the multitude to be capable of strategy.

One way to explore these questions is to investigate contemporary political experiments that tend in this direction. How much can one recognize an inversion of the traditional roles of strategy and tactics in the Podemos party in Spain or, more significantly, in the municipal government of Barcelona? Does it make sense to think of aspects of the Black Lives Matter movement as experimenting with such an inversion? Toni and I do engage such practical examples, but our investigations are primarily theoretical, in particular exploring aspects of social cooperation in contemporary economic relations that can serve as the basis for constructing new forms of political organization. That’s a complicated matter that involves the core sections of Assembly." (http://greattransition.org/publication/empire-and-multitude)