(X)po-nential Opportunities

I was fortunate this pass weekend to gain access to the City Works (X)po, “a gathering to share big ideas for better cities.” The (X)po was started as an annual event three years ago by Roanoke developer Ed Walker, as a small part of his larger effort to revitalize Roanoke and bring people from across the country and around the world to think about ways to make small and medium sized cities even better. Topics include public health and safety, urban design, arts, music, and much of the conference is underpinned by the leadership, community activism, and civic education.

Nicco Mele was the last speaker on Friday, talking about his new book “The End of Big: How The Internet Makes David the New Goliath.” The book focuses on business leadership in the Internet age, emphasizing that individuals are now far more connected through technology and have a vastly greater ability to use their voices to instantly impact businesses, such as writing product or service reviews, as well as greater flexibility in creating start up companies that frequently pose serious competition and act as alternatives to larger-scale traditional businesses.

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Throughout his presentation and thoughts on the importance of media and connectivity, I couldn’t stop thinking about how his theories highlight the importance of better understanding follower-centered perspectives on leadership. In particular, I recalled several comments put forth by Brad Jackson and Ken Parry’s thoughts on “the romance of leadership.” In their book, Jackson and Parry point out:

Followers construct their opinions about the leader by interacting with other followers… The media are important contributors… Media accounts influence and shape the attributions that followers might give to a particular leader.” (pg. 52)

Mele made similar points in a Forbes article from April of this year, reminding business leaders, “You have to start to recognize that everyone you’re dealing with has the same power you do, a tremendous amount of power.” While this comment might sound somewhat threatening, the bulk of Mele’s presentation on Friday emphasized that it was an exciting time to be a follower, an exciting time to exercise the power of being able to rise up against leadership that you might not support, or in many instances to take on leadership roles that might not have previously been as accessible. Technology, perhaps more than any other element of modern society, seems to be a very interesting tool for reevaluating what it means to be both a leader and follower.

While the influence of technology is important (and perhaps somewhat daunting) for today’s business leaders, I would stress the value of considering Jackson & Parry’s closing remarks on the positive nature of follower-centered perspectives, which is “encouraging everybody to take an interest in and play an active role on producing the highest for of leadership we can.” (pg. 66)

Whether being lead by David or Goliath, I am hopeful that more participation and efforts toward keeping leaders honest, open, accountable, and flexible to the needs of their followers, as well as followers continuously engaged in whatever mission they are working for, should ultimately lead to more productive outcomes for everyone.

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