Trust Is the New Leadership In A Flat World

Thomas Friedman’s book The World is Flat is an absurdly great best-seller.

It was a best-seller when printed in 2005, and as of today it’s still ranked #112 on Amazon. That’s a lotta bananas.

I don’t recall if Friedman ever defines “flat”—but it is an apt adjective.

“Flat” conveys the sense of “level playing field,” as in markets opening up to competitors from everywhere. It suggests a levelling of wages and prices, for the same reason. And it certainly conveys the feeling of lots and lots of interaction between buyers and sellers.

But enough about Friedman. Here’s what “flat” says to me.

Business used to be about stable, vertically organized, fire-walled, corporate entities—which competed against each other. That was business.

Not any more.

In the “flat” world, we don’t have corporations—we have supply chains. The vast majority of the auto industry’s costs are purchased costs. I’m told that when Tata set out to design a sub-$2500 car, they didn’t call a company meeting—they called a supply chain meeting.

The old job of leaders and managers—to organize (largely hierarchical) efforts within the walls of the Good Ole Corporation—is disappearing.

The new job is being done by supply chain managers, customer relationship managers, key account sales managers, and field engineers.

And that new job is not about directing people over whom you have control—it is about influencing those over whom you have absolutely no control whatsoever.

Trust is the new leadership.

It’s no longer about how you measure, motivate and inspire those beneath you or with the same W-2 form as you. It’s about how you connect with, help, and serve those with whom you interact in the Great Outside World.

Trust is the new leadership.

It’s no longer about how you help those who depend on you. It’s about how you help those on whom you depend.

And there’s the rub. Our old leadership models were internal; it was OK to help your people—after all, you all worked for Good Ole Corp.

But in old-think strategy, the customer and the supplier are your competitors too (think Five Forces model). Don’t share your cost information; contract for everything; you get what you bargain for; check with the lawyers.

In a flat world, old-think strategy runs smack up against new-think leadership.

In a flat world, you actually have to trust your supply chain. Your supply chain is your friend, not your enemy.

It’s no mistake Davos this year was all about collaboration. Collaboration is the new competition.

And trust is the new leadership.

Like old “internal” leadership, it comes with a paradox. If you focus on serving others, you will be served yourself. But if you set out to serve yourself by the “means” of serving others, you will be found out.

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  1. […] is global. Culture is local. And trust is universally needed to do business in today’s increasingly impersonal world. So, it is with delight that I announce our new […]

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