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Deborah Ancona

Deborah Ancona

Deborah Ancona is the Seley Distinguished Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management and the Faculty Director of the MIT Leadership Center.

The helpful hands: You and your neighbor?

Question: Considering all spheres of endeavor, who would you nominate as Leader of the Year in 2010? Why?

As publication after publication seeks to identify THE leader of the year, we inevitably revert back to our old mental models of leadership--THE omniscient leader at the top to whom credit is given for change, courage, innovation and morality. And of course such leaders should be recognized. However, the world has gotten too complex, dynamic, competitive and ever-changing for this model of leadership. This year we should change our very definition of leadership to one better suited to our new world, "distributed leadership"--multiple leaders working together across boundaries to mobilize others to create and reach their goals. These leaders can be formal or informal, high up or low down, permanent or temporary.

Take 2010: the year the earth declared war. This year hundreds of thousands of people died due to earthquakes, floods, volcanoes, heat waves, blizzards, typhoons and droughts. This was the costliest war on the planet. In Haiti and Pakistan, whole cities were destroyed and aid from the outside world could not get in very quickly. In such circumstances there was little that one leader could do. However, many leaders stepped in. These were the people on the ground, many of whom had to deal with their own personal traumas, who made things happen. There were those who helped people trapped under rubble. There were those who helped organize others to find water, set up shelters and care for new orphans. There were those who set up supply lines and worked to get the sick to makeshift "hospitals" that people were building with whatever materials they could find. And later, people came to think about what new cities might look like and how life could go on. And continuously scientists, architects and organizers work to figure out how we can change our own habits, buildings and ways of living so that this is not the world of tomorrow.

What makes these people leaders? They provide visions for what the world might look like after the crisis is over. They offer hope. They sense what is needed now--be it water, food, shelter from the rains, heat, snow, mud or ice--and invent ways to supply the necessities as soon as possible. They offer road maps and relief. They bring together locals and aid agencies, engineers and nurses, runners who connect communities and farmers who supply food. They offer connection. We do not know their names, but together these leaders are the ones who have done the most in this year that the world declared war.

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By Deborah Ancona

 |  December 22, 2010; 3:20 PM ET
Category:  Accomplishing Goals , Crisis leadership , Managing Crises , Self-Sacrifice Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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great points! I served for a week in Port-au-Prince this summer and witnessed both the incredible destruction and tremendous outpouring of support and compassion. All the resources in the world won't make much of a difference there or other places in need without great, "servant heart" leadership.

Posted by: cvilledill | December 28, 2010 1:48 PM
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