25 March 2019

Is the age of Leadership obsolete?

There has been a whole industry created to teach people from every walk of life this thing called Leadership. The desire to be a great leader has never been stronger, and millions of people crave this mantle. But, maybe this highly sought after skill is becoming, or is in fact already, obsolete.

I have been pondering this thought for about 12 months now. The reason it’s been on my mind, is that the issues facing the world today are so damn Complex in comparison to the past. And solving these issues will come at a high cost to our human race. Yes, we have faced world wars, natural disasters and plagues before…. and we have scraped through with good leadership.

Now, our immediate horizon has things such as Artificial Intelligence, Social Media, Energy Resources and Climate Change. We will have also to cope with the effects of this population of Sapiens which continues growing year on year. Plus, who knows what challenges are ahead that we are not even aware of?

Are our models of leadership from the past going to be able to cope with solving these issues? I absolutely don’t think so. Brexit seems to be a bridge too far, and that’s a blimp in comparison to the global tsunamis coming at us.

There is another conundrum. Most, if not all, of this shite ahead has been Created by the grand leadership techniques that have been taught. Think about that for a minute. Some of the world’s most powerful and influential Sapiens have actually worked their arses off to create this bloody mess coming at us.

Albert Einstein:

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”

I could finish this Blog now after that wee rant. Some of you have already stopped reading, and I know who you are. But, I have some other thoughts I would like to expand on from observing leaders over the past decade.

Here are two basic concerns I have with Leadership:

  • The name ‘Leadership’ is flawed. ‘Leader’ is singular. It’s an individual, and unfortunately there is a vast number of egotistical people who have pursued the role of Leader. They get their jollies from being ‘the’ leader. The world is full of them, and they will continue to fill these roles until the model evolves.
  • If you research leadership, one of the first attributes that comes up is Vision. A great leader must have vision. In today’s complex world I doubt if anyone actually has any idea of what the future holds with any certainty. So, to talk of vision is a stretch.


This is what I have observed first hand through our work at Collective Intelligence. Often we have had strong leaders in teams. They have come from any one of the 70 industries or professions we deal with. They are articulate, knowledgeable and forthright, and have presence and great work ethic. Their influence is real, and ever present. They are generally respected by their peers. All good stuff.

What you don’t often get to see, is that these same people inhibit the development of others working with them. It’s a very subtle, and often unintended, consequence of a strong leader. People fall into line behind them.They are less likely to be challenged by subordinates, and critical information flows slower for fear of rebuke or just falling out of favour.

Yet, to the outside world it looks grand having a strong leader at the helm. All is well in the predictable slow moving world we have come from.

My clarity came over the past couple of years, after a small number of such leaders left their CQ teams. They didn’t think the rest of the team was of a high enough standard for them to learn anything. One even mentioned that he was not sure how they would function without him. Bless.

Well, what invariably happened was that the team breathed a sigh of relief, and the collective and personal outcomes jumped significantly. I was surprised. The facilitators were not. The strong leaders were not missed at all, and in fact would not be welcomed back after the collective had experienced life after.

What was going on? I was fascinated, and I realised there is a whole new model appearing in front of me, and one that will cope with the uncertainty and complexity ahead.

When we design a Collective Intelligence team, we work hard to get as many worldviews in the room, a huge variety of experience, range of ages, ethnicities and industries. Meanwhile, watching there are no conflict of interest, and that no cliques emerge, once the team begins. This is so we don’t get any hierarchical behaviour, but have as much neutrality in dialogue, and free thinking.

We are not wanting to have strong leaders in a team. They just stifle the output of others. Don’t get me wrong, we have fabulous, capable, authentic, hard working professionals from across New Zealand, but the mantra often expressed to new members coming in, by existing members is this: ‘Leave your ego at the door’.
And if I was to condense this Blog to one line, that would be it:

Leave your ego at the door

Recently I was reminded of the effects of our culture by Kylie Bailey of Goodsense, who was called in to facilitate a group of members selected at random from around the nation, for a workshop. There was a 40 year age gap from youngest to oldest, some were members who had been with us 11 years, and some just started. I was fortunate enough to be present.

Here’s what Kylie noticed:

Having spent time with a group of Collective Intelligence members, the first thing that struck me about being in their presence was the unique way everyone in the room approaches conversations… even when others are very different from themselves. There is an immediate sense that these people aren’t about business as usual (BAU) or being in competition (a rare combination in high-performing New Zealand professionals). There is a level of empathy, care and a genuine sense that – on first interaction – they want to engage with an individual’s point of view and what they have to say. Conversely, Collective Intelligence members aren’t afraid in coming forward, they are vocal and honest with their opinions. There are no shadows. Instead, there is a palpable willingness to understand someone’s opinion from every perspective and to share their own perspective. When you talk with a member of Collective Intelligence, you feel heard, included and respected… even if your opinion is different from theirs.

And yes, the random group smashed the complex issue in 3 hours with no one leading. Just an energised facilitator and a neutral team focussed on the task.

In summary, I believe collective intelligence will outperform leadership every time. Especially when the issues and opportunities are complex.

It is hard to define the unique energy unleashed by this phenomenon when you are able to attain neutrality between individuals, and allow the fringes to shine and have voice. There is nothing but magic in those corners.

So as individuals, how do you start to build a team of your own at work, to harness this collective energy.

  • Squash the ego – the less you know the better
  • Bring out the empathy
  • Let the dialogue flow, give it space, let people participate.
  • Pay attention – notice, notice, notice what is going on.
  • Unlearning is as important as learning – some knowledge needs dropping asap.
  • Curiosity is gold
  • Be clear on a few values – and make everyone accountable to them.
  • Value diversity of opinion by listening to it, and become informed by it.
  • No cliques – ever. They are always non productive.
  • Have a growth mindset – rather than knowledge mindset.
  • Be courageous – nurture courage in others – give it life.
  • And finally – have fun. It’s a blast to be in the middle of it.


Personally I have never seen myself as the ‘leader’ of Collective Intelligence. Yes I have tasks to carry out, KPI’s etc, but, I am at my most productive, in my role as founder, when I am sensing and responding to the people around me.

They know far more than I ever could.

Ian Harvey (Harv)


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