The Rise of Emergent Leaders
Author: Dr. Dave Cornelius
Throughout my experience coaching product development teams I have witnessed individuals who risked being denied by others to lead when there was an opportunity. These individuals are referred to as emergent leaders. Emergent leaders are individuals who assume a leadership role without being assigned by their manager. These informal leaders help to bring the best ideas directly from their lived experiences and work contexts. When a situation presents itself, the emergent leader is open to serving in that moment. My observation of the emergent leader is the demonstrated attributes that include: 1) servant leadership, 2) courage and 3) pursuit of craft mastery. These three attributes help the informal leaders to serve without seeking reward, take on tough activities, and build their craft mastery.
In the season of the COVID-19 pandemic, people are leading in their community without assigned roles. You observe leadership in the social justice movement, parents becoming organizers for community learning for the neighborhood children, and athletes representing a cause with conviction. You may wonder, how are distributed knowledge workers demonstrating emergent leadership. The reality is they will need help and partnership with assigned leaders (managers, directors, etc.) to bring their whole self to work.
Assigned leaders have an incredible opportunity to create nurturing environments that enable innovation freedom and emotional safety to give birth to people willing to walk into the uncomfortable emergent leadership role. The leaders with assigned authority must cultivate a space where these informal leaders can emerge, bring energy, and actionable outcomes throughout the organization.
People celebrate high performing teams and they are often given the best assignments and admired for the outcomes achieved. High performing teams are known for being self-organizing, collaborative, and domain masters. Emergent leaders are the cornerstone of high performing teams, which are the desired team dynamics of any leader in the organization.
This is the moment to practice the emergent leader behaviors in your organization. As we are dispersed and sequestered in our homes, there are opportunities to find ways lean into serving team members. There is no need to strive for perfection, but you can be helpful in leading team members toward becoming a high performing team by practicing emergent leadership.