#14 Enabling Leadership

Image of birds in formation

I have been doing a lot of reading and thinking around some of the bold steps required to be an enabling leader in the Fourth Industrial Revolution that shapes our current day lives.

It is important to firstly reflect on how the preceding three Industrial Revolutions have influenced this Fourth Industrial Revolution. The First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production. The Second Industrial Revolution followed with electric power to create mass production. In the Third Industrial Revolution electronics and information technology were used to automate production. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is expanding on the Third and is better known as the ‘knowledge era’. The ‘knowledge era’ is building on the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of last century.

Schwab the Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economics Forum proposed three reasons why the ‘knowledge era’ is not just a simple continuation of the third Industrial revolution:

1. velocity
2. scope
3. systems impact

The velocity and speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent thus evolving at an “exponential rather than linear pace”. Its scope is global with its disruption being in almost every industry and every country. These transformative changes of systems impact are mostly demonstrated and evident across production, management and governance.

In Consequences Blog#13 I outlined the need for emergent impact in action (I refer to this as STRADDLE™) and the resounding importance of an enabling leadership role to deal with transformation – such as that described by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Uhl-Bien et al (2007) in their considerations on leadership theory believed that by exploring alternatives such as complexity theory a shift away from traditional leadership – which had been dominating previous Industrial Revolutions – was required. Their work has spanned the course of this millennium and identified three styles of leadership:

1. enabling leadership
2. administrative leadership
3. adaptive leadership

Blog #14 focuses on the first of these leadership styles – Enabling Leadership

“Enabling leadership works to catalyse the conditions in which complex leadership can thrive, which is to manage between the bureaucratic (administrative leadership) and emergent (adaptive leadership) functions of the organisation” p305 2007 Uhl-Bien et al.

Using the #GoodSave case study (merger of Good Beginnings Australia and Save the Children Australia 1/7/15) I continue to consider the lessons to be drawn to assist Not For Profit Board Leaders and Executives be ready for the ‘knowledge era’ by adopting an ‘enabling leadership’ style.

In the For Social Purpose sector it is important that outcome opportunities influence and take priority in decision-making. The decisions around suitable governance arrangements can then follow – not to be influenced by personal or career preferences – especially at Board, CEO, Executive level (aka for example the role I had as CEO of Good Beginnings Australia).

To put your personal role such as a CEO at stake may be deemed by some as foolish but at the other end of that continuum is justification of being in a role that may prevent transformative options, especially if there is a better way to achieve the desired outcomes. In the example of #GoodSave it was the joining with another organisation (Save The Children Australia) that provided opportunities for more children to receive a good beginning – better fulfilment of the vision for both organisations.

An enabling leader must see this difference and then navigate the most effective pathway to achieve the best outcome. In #GoodSave this was a role that had to be played at many levels across both organisations. This is more than altruism it is what I propose to be the responsibility of every leader – particularly within the For Social Purpose sector. Respect at all levels and across the organisation especially for the clients (those being provided for) is an important virtue of the enabling leadership role. It is also important to recognize that respect is often interpreted differently – it is a little like beauty and can be in the eye of the beholder!

Outcomes continue to become incredibly important, as the drive of an enabling leader is to follow the agreed goals whilst being flexible to adapt to necessary changes. I often refer to the eleventh hour, which we definitely experienced in #GoodSave – my advice is to expect it with such transformations and stay focused on the outcomes.

An enabling leader is also diligent and this is separate to the due diligence and good practice that is often involved within any merger/acquisition consideration. Diligence in balancing the tensions that exist between the formal acts that serve whilst coordinating the emergent experiences is what shapes the leadership required in the ‘knowledge era”– the essence of STRADDLE™.

The podcast series as launched in Blog#13 are building in numbers and with Blog #14 I have linked the thoughts and wisdom of David Gonski AC. David upon reflecting on STRADDLE™ demonstrated his ability of being an outstanding enabling leader especially when making some bold decisions within the University setting. (It is just a short listen and I encourage you to have a listen!).\

In conclusion and returning to Schwab and his reminder of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and new era we are confronting:

“Today’s decision-makers, however are too often trapped in traditional, linear thinking, or too absorbed by the multiple crises demanding their attention, to think strategically about the forces of disruption and innovation shaping our future” (Schwab 2015)

I believe it is important to take personal responsibility and where possible take a conscious step into the enabling leadership role and step into the emergent experiences – you and society will not look back!


Uhl-Bien, M., Marion, R., and McKelvey, B., (2007) Complexity Leadership Theory: Shifting leadership from the Industrial age to the knowledge era, Department Faculty Publications University of Nebraska – Lincoln 4-1-2007.

Schwab, K. (2015) The Fourth Industrial Revolution: What It Means and How to Respond, Foreign Affairs Snapshot December 12, 2015.


2 thoughts on “#14 Enabling Leadership”

    1. Dr Jayne Meyer Tucker

      Thanks Anett and really like your work on new business models in alignment with SDG 9. There is no time like the present to make those changes!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top
Scroll to Top