Why Sharing Leadership Matters

Why Sharing Leadership Matters

Do you like sharing? It could be sharing expertise in the boardroom. Perhaps sharing time and knowledge to mentor the next generation in your profession. So far so good. But what about sharing leadership? Making decisions collaboratively with fellow leaders? No one person having overall control and everybody’s ideas treated as equally worthy of consideration?

Or do we secretly prefer to be the smartest person in the room, despite all the advice against that way of thinking? How many of us like the feeling when people stop talking and start listening when we open our mouths? All simple but effective ways to stop shared leadership in its tracks.

And for some that’s how it should be. Leadership needs the vision, energy and discipline of an individual. Here’s the hymn sheet, get in tune and sing along, right?

Sharing leadership, the argument goes, might be a nice idea, but it’s a recipe for endless meetings and a lack of decision-making. It all seems a bit wishy-washy and won’t work when the hard decisions need to be made (cue visions of failed hippie communes).

Solo Leadership Causes… Chaos?

Well, let’s take a look at how well concentrating leadership responsibilities in the hands of one individual is going for us. I know they’re easy targets, but is anyone taking bets on how long Theresa May will last as Prime Minister of the UK? And whether you agree with his politics or not, how long will Trump last? Look at the demise of Christy Clark of the British Columbia Liberal Party in Canada. She lost a confidence vote after the provincial election led to a minority government that lasted only seven weeks.

Given the shocks of the past year or so making predictions about political outcomes is a fool’s game. But whatever the future holds, the travails of these political leaders show us it’s becoming increasingly archaic to think there’s one person who knows best. One person who should be leading not just businesses but whole countries.

That we think it’s sensible for one person to put forward their position and vision is ridiculous. Even if we agree with what they say. In fact, especially if we agree with it. Now you could say that’s why we have a Cabinet in government, or a management team in business – to provide checks and balances. But who picks the Cabinet or management team? They’re chosen by the leader who all too often makes ideological choices of people who support their agenda. So the checks and balances they should provide often go out the window.

A Smart Leader Shares

We know from the sorry tale of Enron back in the early 2000s that walking into a room and looking to be the smartest person in it is not the way forward in business. But shared leadership is still a long way from the norm. Why? Well, maybe too many of us assume it’s just human nature to have a top dog running the show. And if it’s the natural order of things then changing that way of thinking is futile.

But that’s a myth. Past human history of egalitarian hunter-gatherer societies shows us that our current model of single leader societies is the historical aberration. After all we were hunter-gatherers for far longer than our current way of living. And even if we’re naively romanticising early human societies, for me our current political chaos reinforces the idea that a single leader is past its sell by date.

Sharing Leadership is the Millennial Way

No single leader is smarter and better suited to be in charge than a group of leaders. Though you may disagree, that doesn’t change the fact the millennial generation is embracing shared leadership. Enterprise thinking and looking out for the wider good of the organization beyond your own department is a key indicator of business success. Sharing leadership puts enterprise thinking front and centre. It’s hard work but it’s a challenge the forward thinking clients I work with embrace.

Sharing leadership is all about:

  • Giving others a platform to lead in their sphere of influence.
  • Developing accountability as well as autonomy in your team (they go hand in hand).
  • Within a senior leadership team be prepared to give your co-leaders a platform, or challenge yourself to lead the organization beyond your own department.

Of course making organizational changes to develop shared leadership takes time and effort, but at its root it’s a mindset. And one you can start practising right now. Yes, you’ll need to look at how to make the change in your business, but the way you think about leadership is the most important change you can make.


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