Shared Leadership: spreading the expertise-based power within the team

Shared Leadership: spreading the expertise-based power within the team

Switching from vertical organisational models to combined leadership

Traditionally, the concept of leadership has always been perceived as a vertical top-down relationship between a single person – a strong, powerful leader – and the rest of the group, the subordinates. However, many other alternative leadership models have arisen with time to respond to the changing market and organizational requests for dynamic flexibility, among which the so-called shared leadership.

Shared leadership substitutes a sole leader that used to be the only decision-maker with collaborative process of deliberating decisions, collective knowledge sharing, and sometimes common responsibility for the following outcomes. In frames of this leadership model, team members work towards the achievement of the goals that were previously defined together. In other words, this form of leadership is extensively distributed, so that people within an enterprise lead each other. This way, the decision-making power is no longer restricted to just one appointed “big manager” but belongs to the multiple organisation tiers that constitute designated teams. Whenever some problematic issue arises, a person with the right expertise and suitable capabilities can go on the forefront and drive the process till the matter is solved, with the supervision of senior staff.

An education researcher Phillip C.Schlechty put it beautifully in his book “Shaking up the school house”: “Shared leadership is less like an orchestra, where the conductor is always in charge, and more like a jazz band, where leadership is passed around depending on what the music demands at the moment and who feels most moved by the spirit to express the music.”

Why shared leadership is of great long-term value

Marshal Goldsmith, a famous American leadership coach, described this phenomenon in his Harvard Business Review article: “Shared leadership involves maximizing all of the human resources in an organization by empowering individuals and giving them an opportunity to take leadership positions in their areas of expertise. With more complex markets increasing the demands on leadership, the job in many cases is simply too large for one individual. Sharing leadership isn’t easy, but it’s definitely possible, and in many cases, highly successful.”

In fact, shared leadership has lately been increasingly used in more and more job fields thanks to the multiple advantages it brings to the businesses, big and small alike. The new approach is spawning a completely different management model with the assumption that the smartest company is the one that has a quick access to its own collective knowledge. By encouraging employees to experiment with leadership, HR and executive managers reduce the power distance within the hierarchy and stimulate willingness to take initiative.

Moreover, shared leadership stems from the team members, therefore it is flexible, dynamic, interactive, and rapidly adaptive to any changing business reality. It maximizes all staff resources within the company, leverages the talent input, and strongly empowers single workers by providing them with an opportunity to take on leadership in their areas of expertise. As noted in Harvard Business Review, “a pipeline of future leaders is essential to companies’ long term success. No wonder organisations today are drawn to the benefit of leadership that is shared, rather than concentrated in a single, charismatic individual. Regardless of the exact organizational structure or what it’s called, the times seem to call for leaders who can be first among equals”.

Shared leadership also positively impacts overall team effectiveness: the feeling of being empowered with more responsibility and greater ownership results in higher levels of engagement, team cohesion, and work satisfaction.

The best ways to introduce shared leadership

The researchers say that shared leadership is more likely to be established successfully where there is already a high level of staff integrity, self-leadership encouragement, and a trusting disposition. Here are some further tips to create a “shared leadership”-friendly environment:

  • It all starts with promoting the concept of spreading the power away to the most qualified individuals and further nurturing the talent. But it is important to identify the limits of decision-making power per each team member.
  • Foster the environment in which your workers are free to take initiative on various assignments, even the most difficult ones – they should be able to take a risk and face the consequences. Cultivate trust in their skills and expertise. Rely upon your young leaders – and strongly advertise meritocracy.
  • Give the best qualified people discretion and autonomy over the tasks they are supposed to perform, encourage them to be innovative thinkers with creative solutions. Once you granted them with this autonomy, do not second-guess their decisions, trust their opinions.
  • To make shared leadership work, it is essential to set collective goals and make clear the corporate purpose – an intrinsic motivating objective that acts as a common thread within the enterprise. It will be like a guideline for your staff for all discussions and decision-making.

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