Fixed Single Leadership in the Age of Change

We are living in the world that is becoming more volatile, more uncertain, more complex and more ambiguous by the day. It is called ‘VUCA’ and it presents a huge challenge to modern organisations and not in the last place to modern leadership


We have all been educated with the principles that organizations need central leadership. These principles dictate that there always needs to be someone in charge and that there are rules that we must obey in order to get anything done. These principles date back from an era when change was moderate and quite manageable by a few smart people. As things got more complex, we developed a whole range of management principles, techniques and systems to keep things under control. This worked until now. But as “VUCA” increases exponentially the problems become more unmanageable. Over the last 50 years neither cost nor effort was spared to improve management techniques and systems to solve the problems with VUCA. Yet remarkably the one thing that no one ever questioned, were our convictions of central leadership.


Already in 2012 professor Rolf Wetzel of the Vlerick Business School concluded that the challenges of modern organisations are just too much for a single individual or small team to address. Fixed single leadership has become the primary bottleneck for progress in many organizations. He expects that the term CEO will become obsolete before the year 2040. But what is the alternative? Do we know of any other systems that have to deal with the same level of volatility and uncertainty as modern human organizations? What organization of principles do those system use and could we use them to? Of course we now know that such systems exist, and that we can just copy the behaviour of natural self-organizing systems: Swarms.


In a Swarm leadership is not fixed but situational and distributed. Leadership emerges spontaneously where and when necessary, and it’s taken on by individuals with the applicable insights, physical position, knowledge and above all, personal motivation. Problems are solved where they occur in an organization by the people who are most involved with the problem. This improves efficiency and effectiveness. There is no backlash in decision making, nor extensive briefing and reporting. Managers are not overwhelmed by the sheer workload or lack of subject matter expertise. There is direct interaction between the owner of the problem and the people who have to solve it. Authority only resides in the role, and these roles are not permanent. Therefore privilege, abuse and corruption will be eliminated. And so many, many more.


Leadership in a SWARM Organisation is totally purpose driven and the benefits are enormous. We believe it is the answer to ever increasing VUCA.


Evert Bleijenberg MBA


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