Are we headed toward a leaderless workplace?

16 Sep 2018 3:38 PM | Anonymous

Suzanne Copeland

So many trending topics in workplace dynamics suggest the diminishment of the role of leaders--the gig economy, where everyone is their own boss; leaderless matrix teams assembled for projects; flat organizational structures; and leaders coached to lean back, ask questions, and let their teams call the shots. Are we on our way to a leaderless workplace?

 Maybe. But I predict it won’t work and it won’t last.

Human nature is the only thing that has never evolved. Humans may physically look different than our ancestors and we certainly use more sophisticated tools and have a more complex man-made environment than ever before, but we are still social creatures. Much like ants and bees we don’t merely desire social structure, we require it to survive.

One of the more interesting aspects of human nature, however, is our strong aversion to our nature. We resist our social structures. Take a look at our animated movies about ants and bees. Those story lines are always about how the lead character breaks out of their assigned role and goes in their own direction. We value non-conformity in spite of our strongly conforming nature. This explains why those in assigned leadership roles are often met with lack of support and even outward hostility. Who doesn’t have a bad boss story? No one. 

It is therefore understandable that leaderless organizational structures appear to be superior. But, if those leaderless structures are examined more closely in practice, I believe it would become apparent that leaders emerge in those situations regardless of the desire to work without them. It just takes longer and is likely more frustrating for everyone in the early stages of the process while the group struggles for a leader to emerge.

Having a leader, therefore, remains critical for getting any group of humans to work together toward a common objective. Being a leader is an art, a science, and on some days a magic trick, getting results in spite of the odds against you. Yes, you have to engage the team, and many times defer to the expertise of others, to get the best results. And, yes, you need to do more listening than talking. But, someone needs to have the vision for the future state and guide others to get there. And, it needs to be clear to the team who is in that leadership role. Like it or not, it is just how humans are wired to operate.

What does this mean for your company? Invest in developing leaders. Strong, effective leadership will always deliver a good return on your investment and, more important, leadership is never going out of style.


Suzanne Copeland specializes in maximizing the effectiveness of your workforce. Suzanne’s success in developing employee communication programs and leadership initiatives stems from her accomplished career as a marketing executive. She has been at the helm of marketing for both market leading and rapid growth financial services companies. As CMO, she also spearheaded culture change programs to educate and engage the workforce to align with and embrace the strategies of the organization. She has founded highly successful leadership initiatives in corporations for many years. Her programs deliver a curriculum of personal and professional development topics, networking, and leadership skill application opportunities. Her approach, influence, and emotional intelligence in delivering programs aimed at employees have had a significant impact on the success of the companies and the individuals with whom she has worked. Suzanne's firm, Copeland Collaborative, provides employee communication strategies and leadership development for companies, executive coaching for individuals, keynote speeches, and group workshops.


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