Technology 4 min read

Challenge-Driven Leadership: The Best Leaders Aren't Focused on Leading

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By avoiding leadership trappings, challenge-driven leaders focus more on channeling their own talents as well as their collaborators’ to solving problems creatively.

“Those who want power do not deserve it. And those who deserve power do not want it.”
― J.K. Rowling.

The way I interpret this goes as follows: power should go to those who are not pursuing it, and to those whose know-how and skills make them worthy of it.

To boost the performance of their organizations and give them new impetus, more and more leaders turn to a tried and true mode of operation: challenge-driven leadership, which is carefully balanced cocktail.

In our new technologically-fueled industry, professional workforces are comprised of people from all walks of life, from many places around the world, and from many different schools of thought–especially when it comes to how one should be lead.

Luckily, thanks to globalization and communications tech, the best leadership practices are available to learn in places like here, the Edgy Labs blog.

The challenge-driven approach has worked wonders for MIT alumni and could serve as a model for leaders and executives in any organization.

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Challenge-Driven Leaders’ “Anti-Leadership” Mindset

Challenge-driven leadership calls for collaborative management that highlights the knowledge and skills of everyone involved, with an environment conducive to new ideas, creative feedback, and productive dialogue.

This approach allows an organization to break the lines of traditional hierarchy to ensure an efficient, flexible, and interactive system that enables every collaborator to provide their best input.

According to Deborah Ancona and Hal Gregersen of the MIT Leadership Center, challenge-driven leaders should be experts in their fields while demonstrating managerial abilities.

They are not motivated by the trappings of authority, status, or showmanship,” said Ancona and Gregersen in a post published in strategy+business.

They may not particularly want to lead, and they certainly don’t want to be led. But they excel at choreographing and directing the work of others. Their expert knowledge enables them to spot opportunities to innovate in a way that cannot be done by working alone.

What Worked for MIT Could Work for any Orgnization

This challenge-driven spirit has been a distinctive characteristic among MIT students and alumni and has inspired their well-known success.

Because entrepreneurial success is best reflected by figures, the Kauffman Foundation has done the number-crunching in its report entitled, Entrepreneurial Impact: The Role of MIT.

The report estimates that MIT alumni have launched over 30,000 active companies that generate roughly $2 trillion USD in annual revenues, and which employ a total of about 4.6 million people.

Ancona and Gregersen attribute this long-lasting and overarching success to challenge-driven leadership:

MIT happens to be one place where the conditions are ripe for challenge-driven leadership to emerge, and is thus a good launching point for observations and hypotheses about it.

While the authors acknowledge that challenge-driven leadership might not be suited for every problem-solving situation, if done right in the right situation, it could have great impact.

Organizations who want similar effect should opt for a participatory and collaborative management models because the differences between the collaborators and their diverse skills make all the strength of a company.

“The exit is not what drives an entrepreneur,” Uri Levine, Waze cofounder, told MIT entrepreneurs and students, “rather, it is the tremendous urge for change and challenge. Remember that the journey is what is important.”

Are you a leader in your workplace? What leadership principles do you conduct yourself by?

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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