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Leadership Innovation

Tim Berners-Lee and the creation of the World Wide Web

Stephen Miles

on 22 July 2013

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Transcript of Leadership Innovation

Analysis of Innovation
Stephen Miles
Professor D. Petrarca

Leadership Innovation
Authentic Transformational Leaders
Authentic Transformative Leaders
Leadership Action
Foundational Practices of Innovation
Declarations and Destiny
Behaviourist Approach to Transformational Leadership
Strength of Vision
The World Wide Web along with the creation of the Internet is perhaps one of the greatest achievements in human history and certainly one of the greatest innovations of the 20th Century. The WWW was developed by Tim Berners-Lee, who established himself as an authentic transformational leader in many ways through the process of bringing the idea to fruition and with his continued work in leading the Web to its full potential.
Tim Berners-Lee is a transformational leader. He is a transformational leader due to his strength of vision, his ability to communicate his vision to others, and his desire for his invention to serve the greater good rather than his own personal gain. Although Berners-Lee could also be described as a charismatic leader, Yukl (1999) points out that it is important to note the difference between a transformational leader and a charismatic leader. Although the two are closely linked, a charismatic leader is usually "more interested in enhancing their own power and prestige than in providing selfless devotion to followers and the organization" (Yukl, 1999).
Berners-Lee is the first to admit that he invented neither the Internet nor the hypertext language that is the basis of the WWW. He did however see the benefit in merging the two to create a tool for the universal compatibility of documents. In doing so he was also able to "identify opportunities for significant innovations", which according to Conger and Kanungo (1998), is an important characteristic that establishes a transformational leader. (p.17)
Dennison (2004) outlines eight common behaviour patterns of successful innovators. While on the surface it would appear that Dennison's thesis best aligns itself with the behaviourist theories of leadership (Stogdill and Coons 1957; Gardner 1990), which can blur the distinction between leadership and management, I would argue that the behaviours outlined by Dennison (2004) serve to demonstrate the actions required by a transformational leader to motivate and inspire constituents to achieve more than they thought possible, thereby "raising the level of human conduct and ethical aspirations of both" (Fairholm & Fairholm, 2008).
While Dennison (2004) highlights eight foundational practices of innovation, I will focus on four key elements that specifically relate to Berners-Lee as a transformational leader. They are as follows:
Listening and Blending
Focus and Persistence
Declarations and Destiny
Leadership Action
Similar to the Kennedy proclamation of landing a man on the moon, Berners-Lee was equally optimistic about the possibilities for the WWW. He declared the potential of the WWW as being capable of creating a “world intelligence, global learning, social good, economic development, advancing developing countries, reducing world tensions” – all astoundingly optimistic predictions for a single innovation. (Denning, 2004, p.18) As an authentic leader he effectively articulated his vision to his constituents that his invention, if realized, had the power to change the world.
As a transformational leader the key to taking your plan from the idea stage to the acceptance stage is the ability to take action. Berners-Lee was active in communicating not only the benefits of the product, but the reason why the WWW was important. Berners-Lee actively built a dedicated group of followers to support his belief in the WWW, and they in turn developed programs, browsers and eventually the first websites. In addition, he demonstrated his commitment to his vision by setting up a consortium called W3C to ensure that the WWW would remain a financially and intellectually free and open technology, as well as recruiting hundreds of companies to join W3C and share in the future development of the Web. (Denning, 2008)
Fairholm and Fairholm (2008) describe an authentic transforming leader as one who is "engaged in the moral uplift of their followers; they share mutually rewarding visions of success and empower them to transform those visions into realities". (p.28) Berners-Lee has distinguished himself as an authentic transformative leader by establishing a moral imperative for his work, sharing clear and consistent vision with constituents, and by transforming his followers into believers who would champion the cause as fervently as Berners-Lee himself.
Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989, while working at CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory (Berners-Lee, 2011). Frustrated by the number of international scientists working at CERN, all on different computer systems, he saw the need for a global system of hypertext documents to be linked together through the Internet in order to access all the data being generated at CERN and at institutions around the world.
Given the opportunity to capitalize on the innovation of the WWW and reap enormous financial rewards, Berners-Lee chose the greater social good and continues to fiercely protect the WWW as an open and free enterprise. Bass (1990) supports the transformational leader as one who is selfless and is able to intrinsically motivate constituents. Berners-Lee "elevated the interests" of those who worked with him on this project to "look beyond their own self-interest" for the greater good of humanity. (Bass, 1990, p.25).
Listening and Blending
As with any great invention, Berners-Lee encountered skeptics and bureaucracy when he first introduced his idea. He approached colleagues who could potentially benefit from his innovation and asked them for advice and input, modifying his proposal based on their feedback. (Denning, 2004) By listening and adopting input from others he was able to recruit allies and gain support. As a transformational leader Berners-Lee developed a team of followers from an early stage who not only shared his vision, but had some ownership in the innovation and became "moral agents" of the idea. (Fairholm and Fairholm, 2008, p. 27)
Focus and Persistence
Berners-Lee remained focused on keeping his idea simple, with a moral purpose at the heart of his invention. Fairholm and Fairholm (2008) point out that the philosophical work of Burns (1978) on transformational leadership concerns itself with the morality of leaders and shows that for leaders to be authentic, they must “incorporate a central core of moral values”. (p. 28) Berners-Lee demonstrates his morality in his role as an authentic leader by ensuring that the World Wide Web would be universally accessible and controlled by no single entity, which became an increasingly difficult task as his idea began to make headway.
In conclusion, Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, is an authentic transformational leader due to his strength of vision, his ability to communicate his vision to others, and his desire for his invention to serve the greater good rather than his own personal gain. We are able to validate the success of Berners-Lee as a leader by examining the ubiquity of the WWW as well as the continued efforts he puts into the evolution of the Web through the organization W3C.
*Note: Prezi resists the formatting of my References page so I will email them separately in a Word document. I have included them below but they are difficult to read.
The Greater Good
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