MBA Blog: New economy leadership

Leadership is changing. But what does that mean?

Each year AMBA releases a challenge to its global AMBAssadors. The challenge is designed to enhance students' business networks and to share the latest thinking on leadership and management skills by interviewing an MBA graduate who has established a successful innovative social business.

I spoke with Mignon Hardie, who heads up the Fundza Literacy Trust. Fundza is an NGO that seeks out and commissions good relevant stories to boost literacy among the South African black youth by popularising reading, growing a community of readers and developing young writing talent.

During my interview with Mignon, she mentioned how important it was to her to that life should be about making meaning and not money. Yes, we all need the cash to survive but life should be about what you are giving back to society at large. I found myself in awe of Mignon who so easily walked away from her unsatisfying corporate position to pursue something of meaning despite the challenges that she would have to overcome.

In my experience, this is a classic example of a new economy leader. In an organisation that is run by “new economy leadership practices” the structure is relatively flat, where employees are recruited for cultural fit and passion and are then empowered to take the organisation forward under the guidance of the leader. The business principles are about people and performance, there is a radical openness, sharing of knowledge and the organisation is treated as a living system of creativity. Succession planning is essential, change is managed through human responses and the values are embedded in individuals.

This is a far cry from the traditional “old economy leadership practice” where the structure is top down, with a clear leader and followers and employees are recruited only for their hard skills. Business principles are secretive and bureaucratic and information either stays at the top or is filtered on a need to know basis. Change is autocratic and about processes and shareholder value is a certificate on the wall.

Most organisations fall somewhere in the middle of the old vs new economy leadership where we take the good with the bad because that is what we are accustomed to. What if we only had good? What if coming to work is the best part of your day, as Mignon says hers is? What if we could all practice this style of leadership and management?

I left that interview with tears in my eyes after hearing the Fundza story. Thank goodness for the Global AMBAssador Challenge otherwise I would not have met such an inspiring individual with a strong new economy leadership style and who is making a positive social impact within our society.

Brigitte Roediger is brand manager at Spier Wine Farm and an MBA student at University of Stellenbosch Business School, South Africa. She is also an AMBA Global AMBAssador.