In 2014 I wrote a post on LinkedIn called “Is Transient Leadership The Next Big Thing?” 

8 years ago.

And then 2 weeks ago strategy+business blogged that organizations need to shift from command-and-control leadership to more decentralized decision-making and leadership.

Their article took the angle that remote work is facilitating and requiring people to “lead from the seat” meaning everyone should think beyond the job description and look to how they can lead and drive innovation. I would agree – as I did almost 10 years ago. We are way past leadership being immutable and tied to a title. 

Leadership is where you find it and each of us needs to be a leader. 

As I suggested in my post from 2014 the online game “Halo” should be the new model for company leadership. And it will take a lot for companies to do this – but I think it will be what separates the best from the rest. 

Below is that post from LinkedIn in its entirety. I know – it will kill my SEO but what do I care.

Is Transient Leadership The Next Big Thing?

A lot of blogs and business articles focus on the “leadership” thing. It seems that all that’s right and all that’s wrong with a company comes down to leadership. And training around leadership is a booming business.

Based on my quick read in this area it seems the books, articles, blogs, seminars, emails, etc. all focus on leadership as if it were one person doing the leading. We believe it takes a single leader to make a difference and we’ve made superstars of business leaders such as Jack Welch who were in “leadership” positions at successful companies.

But I wonder if this is all history – and the future will be very different.

Halo – The New Leadership Model

I was watching my son play Halo the other day. For those of you without kids (or access to the internet), Halo is a game for the Xbox – a “first-person shooter” where you try to kill aliens. He was playing online with his three cousins (who live 500 miles away – two north and one south of us – so we’re talking 1,000 miles total span – which is cool in its own right) in group mode whereby they make up a team and some other folks on the internet make up another team. The object of the game is to get to 50 kills (no ranting about violence in video games please.)

What struck me while watching is that at any given time during the game anyone can and will be the leader of the team. Depending on your location and weapon, you may be a scout, a support person, or the leader – calling the shots, telling other team members where to go to get the bad guys, directing traffic. You may be the leader one minute – and taking a mortal wound the next – and then someone else picks up the slack. What is so interesting is that it is seamless.

There is no discussion of who will lead and when. It just happens. There is no arguing over who is right/wrong. It is almost innate in how these 14-18-year-olds manage their team to achieve their goal. It is something to watch. Leadership flows from one kid to another with nary a word spoken about who is the “real” leader.

But there are some cues that help the teams function so fluidly.

First of all – each player on Xbox Live (the service that enables the online gameplay) has a ranking that tells all the other players what their skill level is. So going into the game there are unspoken hierarchies of competency. Typically, better players stay alive longer and therefore have more “leadership time” and get preferential treatment vis a vie leading.

Second – the service allows for real-time conversation. Each kid has a headset that allows them to talk to their team members. This is very important during the game as the kids tell each other where the bad guys are and who should go in which direction. But more importantly, I noticed that after each “battle” there was a lot of discussion on what worked and what didn’t. No judgments, just facts. The kids recapped their game, acknowledge successes and failures, and got back into the next game.

Long-winded way of getting to these critical elements for managing, motivating, and influencing today’s workers…

Leveraging Transient Leadership

First of all – leadership IS transient.

I think that being a leader today is situational at best. The current environment dictates who is the leader. The leader a few minutes ago may not be the leader in the next few minutes. In the business world, the time frames may be longer (but not much anymore) but the concept is the same. Workers today expect and understand that leadership is transient and are not phased by those kinds of changes. Whereas some workers may have grown up in environments where leaders lasted decades, today workers must be able to quickly change leaders based on the environment presented.

Second – the ability to shift leaders is predicated on having information on skills.

As in Halo – knowing what the person brings to the table is critical for a worker to shift alliances. Communicating and documenting skills will be one of the foundational blocks that will allow a company to leverage transient leadership.

Third – ongoing discussions on what worked and what didn’t – as soon as the “battle” is over – are critical.

This will mean more candid conversations held as soon after the event as possible. We no longer have the luxury of months of preparation to discuss last year’s marketing plan – we need to talk now and react now. That is the world we live in.

Cult of Company not Cult of Personality

All of this means our engagement tactics for this group of folks have to be based on themes that are not tied to individual leaders but the culture of the organization.

Individual leaders will change more quickly in the future and as with Halo, there needs to be a common theme for the company. For Halo, it is to survive and kill as many of the other guys as possible. For the business, it needs to be that simple as well. Simple enough to allow multiple changes in leadership without jeopardizing the organization.

The future reward and recognition strategies to influence the behaviors of the workforce need to tie back to company cultural themes – not an individual personality or approach.


I can’t teach you what all the buttons on the controller do in Halo but I can help you figure out how to recognize and reward transient leadership in your company! 
Call me to find out