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Are You a Guardian Leader?

After producing global conferences with leading business experts for more than ten years, one of the most provocative issues to emerge has been the question of leadership for the next century. It is clear that the old, vertical leadership model of command and control cannot be sustained in the 21st century if an organization wants to compete in the global marketplace. Companies will have to shift their leadership paradigm from hierarchical to horizontal in order to survive.

In her book, Insider’s Guide to the Future, Edie Weiner, futurist and cabinet member of the Global Athenaeum, writes about the new ways we will think about leadership in the 21st century. She claims that the Total Quality Management (TQM) movement is in trouble. It was the product of a top-down, hierarchical “Dominion” era, but something profoundly different will govern work as we move into the 21st century. Guardianship, or stewardship (responsibility for the world), will begin to replace Dominion (rule over the world) in our value system. This shift has the potential to change work life forever.

She explains that the stewardship concept (which I refer to as Guardianship) that will underlie re-visioning is not quality, but integrity—the open, honest and fair dealings with all of one’s stakeholders, and in particular, one’s own people. If integrity underpins the organization and people really do come first, the customer will be well served automatically because the employee’s goals are aligned with the company’s and no energy is wasted in constantly propping up an artificial system of morale. Work teams will continue to proliferate and grow, but they will function best in those companies where the workers (employees, independent contractors or strategic allies) have faith in the integrity of the new system. These same teams will fail in those companies that are stuck in the Dominion model of the Industrial Era.

Edie Weiner discusses the idea that the old relationship between employers and employees will be fundamentally changed. The old relationship was based on mutual loyalty, paternalism and performance. The new relationship will be based on pragmatism rather than loyalty, on individual self-reliance rather than paternalism, and on performance. Employees will be in charge of their own lives and careers.

The challenge for future leaders is to break the chains of unchallenged tradition, to see themselves as Guardian leaders—guardians of their world, their planet, their organizations or companies, and their employees—and to inspire others to lead along with them.