Ed Miliband and Tony Blair speak before Queen Elizabeth II and the Prince Philip arrive in Westminster Hall on March 20, 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.
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This new era demands collective leadership, not heroic individuals

The old style of leadership is at odds with our complex and networked world. 

Now the dust has settled on Ed Miliband’s perceived leadership strengths and weaknesses, maybe we can have a more profound discussion about political leadership in the 21st century. Substance, style, background, empathy and more have been thrown into the mix. But the times demand not just a change of emphasis in how we are led but a very different type of leader – not least because to be more successful as a society we need more women to lead.

Models of political leadership mirror the wider technological and cultural context in which leaders operate, so what we tend to get is the same types of leaders in business, sport, civil society and politicsIts no accident that the big 20th century leaders were heroic figures. From Churchill to Thatcher, from Henry Ford to Steve Jobs and Alex Ferguson and, in extremis, Hitler and Stalin. This is because it was a century of top-down hierarchy. Big business and big government dominated the scene – and someone had to sit at the top and pull the levers to make these huge clunky machines work. That’s how change happened – from the top-down and the centre out.

But the world is changing fast. Technology is flattening these vertical structures and instead of one-to-many communications – increasingly we communicate and connect directly peer-to-peer. Knowing your place and following orders makes less sense when every day your voice matters on Twitter or Facebook. And at the same time the reputation of the old gods is being forever tarnished because no one gets away with anything any more – as hacking, WikiLeaks and smartphone snaps reveal the unvarnished truth.

The old style of leadership sits at odds with the changing times of the 21st century as digital networks connect up everything everywhere. We can know what we want, talk to whom we want and start to making change happen for ourselves. All of us are smarter than any one of us. Collective intelligence and collective leadership are now within our grasp.

The implications for leadership in the 21st century are profound. As Richard Wilson and many others are now pointing out, instead of being the hero, the new leader is the person who helps build the platforms and creates the spaces for people – together - to do things for themselves. We need wisdom, guidance and resources - a shepherd that stands at the back of the flock. As the poet Maya Angelou wrote "a leader sees greatness in other people. You can’t be much of a leader if all you see is yourself."

But there is another critical dimension to the leadership of the future and this is the role of women. So far the debate has been dominated by men and it’s been about been about male leaders. But in an overlooked Harvard Business Review article, two management professors make the case that in leadership teams it is not just the diversity of some women in the team that helps organisational success – but the more women there are the better the performance.

One of the researchers, Professor Anita Whoolley, says of effective groups that its not enough that the members are all really smart "but that they listen to each other. They share criticism constructively. They have open minds. They’re not autocratic." These are the traits that will define the successful leader of the future and the more women in top positions the more likely this will be the case.

One of the great political conundrums of our times is that to lead in politics today requires a tool set that doesn't allow for the changes society needs. Party political structures are top-down when change is increasingly being driven from the bottom up. We have 20th century leaders in a 21st century world. The levers no longer work, no matter how hard you pull on them. A complex and networked world is going to require a complex and networked form of governance to manage it.

So how can the culture and space for leaders who know their task is to enable others be created? The answer can only lie with us – not them. We have to grow up and take responsibility for our lives – we cant outsource it to others. It never works. We must demand and enable a new form of leadership. So, yes, a functioning modern democracy will take more meetings – but they don’t have to be meetings of boring politicians droning on about what they will do for us. Instead they can be fun and creative, practical and problem solving, innovative, collaborative and sharing. Democracy must become a circle of chairs for discussion, not rows of them where we only listen. The new leader metaphorically, and in reality, sorts out the chairs. After all, we are the people we have been waiting for. It’s all about us – not them.

Neal Lawson is chair of the pressure group Compass, which brings together progressives from all parties and none. His views on internal Labour matters are personal ones. 

Screengrab from Telegraph video
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The Telegraph’s bizarre list of 100 reasons to be happy about Brexit

“Old-fashioned light bulbs”, “crooked cucumbers”, and “new vocabulary”.

As the economy teeters on the verge of oblivion, and the Prime Minister grapples with steering the UK around a black hole of political turmoil, the Telegraph is making the best of a bad situation.

The paper has posted a video labelled “100 reasons to embrace Brexit”. Obviously the precise number is “zero”, but that didn’t stop it filling the blanks with some rather bizarre reasons, floating before the viewer to an inevitable Jerusalem soundtrack:

Cheap tennis balls

At last. Tennis balls are no longer reserved for the gilded eurocrat elite.

Keep paper licences

I can’t trust it unless I can get it wet so it disintegrates, or I can throw it in the bin by mistake, or lose it when I’m clearing out my filing cabinet. It’s only authentic that way.

New hangover cures

What?

Stronger vacuums

An end to the miserable years of desperately trying to hoover up dust by inhaling close to the carpet.

Old-fashioned light bulbs

I like my electricals filled with mercury and coated in lead paint, ideally.

No more EU elections

Because the democratic aspect of the European Union was something we never obsessed over in the run-up to the referendum.

End working time directive

At last, I don’t even have to go to the trouble of opting out of over-working! I will automatically be exploited!

Drop green targets

Most people don’t have time to worry about the future of our planet. Some don’t even know where their next tennis ball will come from.

No more wind farms

Renewable energy sources, infrastructure and investment – what a bore.

Blue passports

I like my personal identification how I like my rinse.

UK passport lane

Oh good, an unadulterated queue of British tourists. Just mind the vomit, beer spillage and flakes of sunburnt skin while you wait.

No fridge red tape

Free the fridge!

Pounds and ounces

Units of measurement are definitely top of voters’ priorities. Way above the economy, health service, and even a smidgen higher than equality of tennis ball access.

Straight bananas

Wait, what kind of bananas do Brexiteers want? Didn’t they want to protect bendy ones? Either way, this is as persistent a myth as the slapstick banana skin trope.

Crooked cucumbers

I don’t understand.

Small kiwi fruits

Fair enough. They were getting a bit above their station, weren’t they.

No EU flags in UK

They are a disgusting colour and design. An eyesore everywhere you look…in the uh zero places that fly them here.

Kent champagne

To celebrate Ukip cleaning up the east coast, right?

No olive oil bans

Finally, we can put our reliable, Mediterranean weather and multiple olive groves to proper use.

No clinical trials red tape

What is there to regulate?

No Turkey EU worries

True, we don’t have to worry. Because there is NO WAY AND NEVER WAS.

No kettle restrictions

Free the kettle! All kitchen appliances’ lives matter!

Less EU X-factor

What is this?

Ditto with BGT

I really don’t get this.

New vocabulary

Mainly racist slurs, right?

Keep our UN seat

Until that in/out UN referendum, of course.

No EU human rights laws

Yeah, got a bit fed up with my human rights tbh.

Herbal remedy boost

At last, a chance to be treated with medicine that doesn’t work.

Others will follow [picture of dominos]

Hooray! The economic collapse of countries surrounding us upon whose trade and labour we rely, one by one!

Better English team

Ah, because we can replace them with more qualified players under an Australian-style points-based system, you mean?

High-powered hairdryers

An end to the miserable years of desperately trying to dry my hair by yawning on it.

She would’ve wanted it [picture of Margaret Thatcher]

Well, I’m convinced.

I'm a mole, innit.