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Leadership’s cult of personality is dead. Here’s what we should be doing instead

The VP of Innovation and Design at Qlik says that to succeed in moving forward, leaders must rely on the collective intelligence of others, bolstered by actionable insights to enable data-driven decision-making.

Leadership’s cult of personality is dead. Here’s what we should be doing instead
[Source photos: Steve Jurvetson/Flickr; Daniel Oberhaus, 2019 /Flickr; Matthew Yohe/Wikimedia Commons]
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Many people believe there will never be another Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, or Jeff Bezos because they embody a rare mix of vision and high energy that can’t be replicated. In truth, however, the idea of a “singular genius” is a myth. Their prowess did not come from a solo wellspring. It was developed by and flourished with the power of collective intelligence. There are many people behind these and other prominent thought leaders who speak at conferences, dominate social media and collectively gain the world’s attention (for better or worse).

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At a time when enterprises are being bombarded by new challenges, businesses can’t afford to rest on one leader’s individual knowledge and opinion. According to a report by Gartner, 65% of the business decisions being made today are more complex than they were two years ago—more connected, more contextual, and more continuous. More than half (53%) of respondents also said that there is a higher expectation to explain or justify their decisions. One person alone cannot overcome these complexities.

Harnessing the power of groups to solve business problems will be one of the most powerful tools to drive innovation and growth in the enterprise. No one person can go it alone, regardless of their talent, creativity, or personality. To succeed moving forward, leaders must rely on the collective intelligence of others, bolstered by actionable insights to enable data-driven decision-making. This requires leaders to embrace diversity (of thought and people), reengineer business processes, and update data workflows to pull more people in.

Powerful collective intelligence = diversity and inclusion (of people and thought)

The evolving culture of the business community is leaning toward greater inclusion. Collective intelligence is not just about bringing people into the room—it’s about bringing people into the organization, and many in are taking notice.

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According to a report by Silicon Valley Bank, more than half of U.S. startups fail to have any women in the C-suite or on the board of directors. This can be especially problematic as these startups rise to become future tech giants. But there are signs of change starting to emerge among the most well-established players—particularly in the tech industry. Chief executives from Adobe, Cisco Systems, Intel, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise are among the Silicon Valley stalwarts that have signed the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion pledge.

They are joined by tech giants from around the country. For example, Dell Technologies,  is dedicated to hiring, developing, and retaining enough women to account for 50% of the firm’s global workforce and increase its workforce of Black/African American and Hispanic team members to reach 25% of its U.S. workforce and 15% of U.S. people managers. This will enable the firm to build a stronger foundation for collective intelligence and develop a working environment in which decisions are made with the thoughts and talents of many individuals.

Diversity empowers businesses to do more with more—more concepts, solutions, and innovations—not less. Other businesses must follow suit with their own diversity initiatives to get the most out of their existing people and prospective employees. Diversity challenges every one of us to think smarter and more intelligently. By bringing diverse minds into the fold, collective intelligence can be attained and deliver on the promise of smarter decision-making.

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Diverse teams and leaders = happier customers

Diversity isn’t only good for employees—it’s also good for customers and ultimately the bottom line. Boston Consulting Group found that diverse management teams achieve EBITA margins that are nine percentage points higher than businesses with below-average diversity.

And in a survey of nearly 13,000 enterprises in 70 countries, the International Labour Organization found that more than half (53%) agreed that gender diversity initiatives improve business outcomes. Among those who track gender diversity, nearly three-quarters reported profit increases as high as 20%.

These are additional reminders of the power of diversity and the collective intelligence that it creates, providing organizations with the cognitive flexibility to persevere in today’s challenging climate. Without diversity in all its forms, businesses are limited in what they can achieve. Instead of waiting for diversity to manifest on its own, companies must actively seek out and attract a variety of bright minds to keep pace with the speed of business.

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Reengineered business processes and data workflows pull people in

Organizational challenges continue to increase in complexity. Between the fight to retain talent (3.6 million people quit in May alone), the rush to keep up with artificial intelligence (AI) deployments, and lower-than-expected returns on divestments, businesses may feel overwhelmed. The only way to overcome these and other obstacles is by drawing upon the collective intelligence of those within the firm. 

Collective intelligence is one of the important accelerators of Active Intelligence, a state of continuous intelligence from real-time, up-to-date information. Ask questions, leverage data, combine with the input of other internal experts, and formulate a plan that works instead of relying on a single idea that was conjured up by one hopeful individual. Why do people want to leave? How can we best utilize AI? What data is needed to ensure we meet or exceed expectations?

Businesses must evaluate their current data processes and workflows to take advantage of their collective intelligence. By uncovering areas for improvement, they can reengineer their approach and bring more people into the conversation. But it’s not about expanding team size. It’s about ensuring diversity of thought that can guide enterprises through tough decisions and situations.

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Harnessing the collective power of groups for growth

The cult of personality that has been so pervasive in tech must be cast aside. By harnessing the power of a diverse group to solve organizational problems, enterprises can more effectively tackle their biggest challenges head-on with superior business results. Teamwork must be augmented by data, which empowers all of us to make smarter decisions and lead stronger organizations. A firm that embraces diversity and inclusion towards collective intelligence will benefit from a greater variety of voices and ideas, setting the stage for sustainable success.


Elif Tutuk is the VP of Innovation and Design at Qlik.