Crisis Meta-Leadership Lessons From The Boston Marathon Bombings Response: The Ingenuity Of Swarm Intelligence by Leonard J. Marcus, Ph.D., Eric McNulty, M.A., Barry C. Dorn, M.D., M.H.C.M. & Eric Goralnick, M.D. at the President and Fellows Of Harvard College on 7 April 2014.

Crisis Meta-Leadership Lessons From The Boston Marathon Bombings Response: The Ingenuity Of Swarm Intelligence by Leonard J. Marcus, Ph.D., Eric McNulty, M.A., Barry C. Dorn, M.D., M.H.C.M. & Eric Goralnick, M.D. at the President and Fellows Of Harvard College on 7 April 2014.

This is a slightly different review since it focuses on a white paper report and not the traditional books or articles.  It does not speak to individual leadership per se, but rather leadership of the commons without a truly centric leadership – called “swarm intelligence” in this article (a definition of which is found on page 7 of the report).  The backdrop is the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, but I can easily picture this happening in crises throughout the world.

What makes me keep coming back to this report is a quote from the Executive Summary about swarm leadership where, “…leaders are able to accomplish more together than any one leader could have achieved separately.”  Is it more effective because we set aside personal objectives and agendas for the greater good?  If it is so effective, why don’t we use it more often in everyday life?

I have seen the transition from a central authority to a swarm intelligence and back to a central authority during the 2010 Haiti earthquake.  It truly warmed my heart (although I didn’t have a chance to think about it at the time) to see how people largely broke down organizational silos to simply “get it done” during the immediate aftermath of the earthquake.  Slowly, however, the silo walls started going back up – bureaucracy started being reintroduced.  Perhaps this was due to the need to start setting some controls – resources were finite and you had to start shifting to a longer-term perspective.  Also possible was the need for people to return to a sense of “normality” – swarm intelligence in large organizations is not perceived as the norm.

Of all organizational types, I would assess the non-profit model to best lend itself to an easy transition to swarm leadership based on the rules outlined in the article:

  1. Unity of mission that coalesces all stakeholders
  2. Generosity of spirit
  3. Deference for the responsibility and authority of others
  4. Refraining from grabbing credit or hurling blame
  5. A foundation of respectful and experienced leaderships that garner mutual trust and confidence
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