For all of the billions organizations invest each year in “leadership development,” a criminal amount of human potential is left on the table. Training and development programs almost universally focus factory-like on inputs and outputs: absorb curriculum, check a box; learn a skill, advance a rung; submit an assessment, fix a problem. Flavor-of-the-month remedies, off-the-shelf programs, immersions, and excursions stuff people full of competencies and skills but produce astonishingly few great leaders.
The fact is, truly gifted leaders are rare. Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Steve Jobs—all sui generis. We celebrate them because they are the exception to the rule. That doesn’t stop us from constructing a model of executive perfection that borders on fantasy. The thousands of books, models, and gurus that make up the leadership industry are remarkably in sync when it comes to the qualities of a great leader: confident yet humble, creative yet analytical, flexible yet focused, bold yet prudent, decisive yet reflective, visionary yet practical, demanding yet empathetic.
Who on earth embodies all of these estimable (and contradictory) traits? No single person, of course. And that’s exactly the point. We live in a world where change is too fast, relentless, and surprising and the challenges are too immense for a lone (or even a handful) of geniuses at the top to have all the answers, make all the decisions, and think up all the good ideas. It’s time to fundamentally rethink what the work of leadership is—and how to equip more people to do it.
The primary constraint here isn’t people and their leadership potential—it’s a pyramidal, CEO-centric organizational model that demands too much of the few and expects too little of the many. That system is a relic of our industrial past when the object of the game was to exert control and amass power. Today, the challenge is to unleash the most initiative, imagination, and passion and the job of leaders is to expand the scope of human accomplishment.
More and more, leadership isn’t a function of where you sit in the organization but a product of what you do with and for your colleagues. Authority isn’t something that’s handed down from on high—it’s a currency you earn from your peers. Leaders are the ones who are capable of attracting followers, rather than the folks who have mastered the dark arts of political infighting and bureaucratic wrangling. And the organizations in which people strive to maximize their ratio of accomplishment over authority are those that will develop a true leadership advantage.
These are the kinds of individuals and organizations we were looking for when we launched the Leaders Everywhere Challenge, the second leg of the HBR/McKinsey M-Prize for Management Innovation. The entries came pouring in from every corner of the world—real-world case studies and bold hacks tackling the intersecting challenges of redistributing power and equipping and energizing people to lead even when they lack formal authority.
Today we are delighted to announce the winners of the challenge. But first, we’d like to acknowledge the eighteen finalists, whose excellent contributions made for some tough decision making. We owe a huge debt to all of the management mavericks out there with the courage, ingenuity, and sheer grit to take on the status quo—and the generosity to share what they’ve learned in the process. Thank you all!
The winners of the Leaders Everywhere Challenge (in alphabetical order):
Biggest-ever day of collective action to improve healthcare that started with a tweet
Story by Helen Bevan, Damian Roland, Jackie Lynton, Pollyanna Jones
A truly inspirational account of collective action across the world’s largest health system (and fifth largest employer), England’s National Health Service (NHS), with the goal of improving patient care. A battle plan for starting a social movement—energizing radicals, unleashing leaders, connecting far-flung actors—inside a hierarchical system.
Using Micro-Learning to Boost Influence Skills in Emergent Leaders
Story by Mark Clare
A recipe for turning an abstract leadership curriculum into sustainable behavior change and a refreshing practical perspective on what it means to exert influence when you are not in charge.
Reweaving Corporate DNA: Building a Culture of Design Thinking at Citrix
Story by Catherine Courage
A remarkable case study of building a culture of innovation and leadership across a global organization by equipping and energizing people with 21st-century leadership skills—curiosity, a bias toward action and experimentation, the ability to collaborate across boundaries.
Teaming at GE Aviation
Story by Rasheedah Jones
A powerful, path-breaking approach to self-directed work and participative management. This detailed case study unpacks both the mechanics and the human element of syndicating leadership in a complex manufacturing environment—and scaling that model globally.
A Tale of Two Captains: Making the Case for the Universal Applicability of Leaders Everywhere
Story by Charlie Kim and David Marquet
Interwoven narratives of embedding leadership as a core organizational capability in two very different settings—a nuclear powered submarine and an Internet startup. Packed with granular detail, replicable approaches and deep lessons, this story makes the case for a considered, comprehensive approach to distributing leadership.
Don’t remove their igloos!
Story by Peter King, Juanita Cardoza, and Carlos Largacha-Martinez
An entertaining and engaging story of building a highly adaptable, high-growth organization on the foundation of unrestricted confidence in every employee’s potential, unrestricted freedom to contribute, and unconditional trust—the kind of culture that switches on the next generation of leaders and leads to remarkable results.
A bold yet practical hack of the typical company social network to unearth, cultivate, recognize and reward leaders and leadership—wherever it resides in the organization. A straightforward, shovel-ready experiment in expanding an organization’s leadership capacity.
Rap a Tap, Tap Tap, Join TITAN and you are the leader
Story by Lalgudi Ramanathan Natarajan and Sumant Sood
An ambitious and wide-ranging approach to creating multiple channels for leadership development, featuring a clever portfolio of approaches for maximizing mobility, growth, and impact from the shop floor to the management ranks.
Who do people report to here?
Story by Richard Sheridan
A truly progressive story of replacing hierarchy with a team of highly-committed, trusting, and accountable colleagues. Menlo Innovation’s totally original design for work yields a vibrant, intense, deeply human environment where nobody—and everybody—is the boss.