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Hand the baton to the next steward…

This week, we have seen two ends of the spectrum of leadership models revealed.

The first is a story that few will have paid attention to. It was a little article in an innovationpublicationabout a change of senior leadership at Service NSW. Damon Rees had been CEO for 5 years before announcing that it was time to “hand the baton to the next steward“.

It is a simple phrase that we expect reflects a deep leadership philosophy. We have never had anything to do with Mr Rees, but we deduce from these few words his understanding that:

1. the organisation existed before he was appointed

2. it will continue to fulfil its purpose after he leaves

3. he had been entrusted with a responsibility while he held the post that he would then pass onto another to fulfil, no doubt with different capacity and strengths, but in support of the same purpose and in service of the same community.

True, the organisation in this case is part of government (itsroleis to “deliver world-class one-stop-shop services forcustomers, businesses and our partner agencies”) and his position was as a public servant. But the mindset displayed is refreshing in an era that too often treats a senior leadership role as a reward, a status symbol or a validation of superior merit. It suggests a model of “leader as custodian” rather than “leader ashero“.

It is perhaps no coincidence that the NSW Minister responsible for Service NSW offered this reflection on Mr Rees:

“You are a zen master. An inspirational leader of the most humble kind. I wish you every happiness and success in your next chapter.”

Not every public servant has left the employ of NSW with such a glowingreference.

At the other end of the spectrum is a story that precisely no-one will have missed. It again relates to the appointment of a leader to an organisation that impacts many. This appointment suggests a vastly different leadership narrative and philosophy. Of course, we speak of the self-proclaimedChief Twit, Elon Musk, and his new job at the head of Twitter.

Twitter has been described as the “SMS of the internet“. In many ways, it represents the epitome of decentralised power, putting content in the hands of its hundreds of millions of users. And yet, on buying the company, Musk sacked the Board and leadership team and appointed himself sole Board Director and CEO.

What followed has variously been described as “chaos“, a “meltdown“, and a “shambles“. This feels like an industrial age attempt at imposing a rigid hierarchy of one on a highly distributed network, and it has not gone well.Advertisersare spooked and users have taken tomocking Muskon his own platform.

Musk’s style of leadership has arguably worked well to date in the organisations he founded (though each feels like a maturing transition is on the horizon). On the surface, it feels jarring to apply this approach to an organisation that reflects the creative processes and vision of others.

Time will tell how the “leader as hero” model pans out at Twitter. Like Service NSW, it existed due to the creative work of those who went before Mr Musk, and it may well survive his time at the helm. But it has not gone well for the 50% of employees fired in the first week.