When the external world is changing quickly, traditional hierarchies can be slow to respond, leaving an organisation frozen and unable to adapt.
Our research into the workplace of tomorrow, published in 2015, revealed the need for flatter organisational structures. The leaders we interviewed want to create a future where each individual is able to bring about change and make a positive difference to their organisation.
They suggested that one way to do this is through distributive styles of leadership, where power is shared.
How do we really make things happen?
One of the key qualities of a leader is the ability to make things happen. How that is done within an organisation is tied to its values and systems.
Shared leadership can create the conditions by which leaders can adapt to circumstances quickly and flexibly, responding to what is really happening and getting things done.
Rather than being about position, role or status, shared leadership is anchored in self-management, self-initiative and self-monitoring activities. It’s about the process of leadership – how making things happen occurs, developing participatory activity – how making things happen with others is encouraged, and individual development – how people can be supported to engage and learn to make things happen.
It’s not policies and procedures that are needed to encourage shared leadership; but dialogue, inquiry and partnership.
The challenges that we as a society face demand courage, flexibility, innovation, resilience, robust relationships and dogged determination to make a difference… and to keep trying. This requires new and different ways of working. No one person or small group of people has all the answers.Angela LockwoodCEO, North Star Housing Group
Our research showed that to respond agilely to the paradoxes of the workplace of tomorrow, leaders will need to connect and collaborate with others. Enabling and relational leadership styles will require key skills of people management and coaching.
As 7 Principles to Shape the Workplace of Tomorrow states: “In practice the move through the turbulent spectrum from hierarchy to shared leadership approaches is a demanding one and is easier said than done. This requires a shift from a leader who holds all the authority to one who enables leadership in all. So the leader of tomorrow will need to give up power and control, enabling leaderful behaviours that allow each of us to take responsibility for ourselves, our part in the workplace and in our wider environment.”
Characteristics of Shared Leadership
In her work with North Star Housing Group, Oasis Associate Director Claire Maxwell found the following applied:
- Shared Leadership is not about delegation but about taking responsibility
- It requires organisational mechanisms and processes to be aligned to approach and values
- It means that whilst everyone has the opportunity to lead, it does not mean that everybody leads all the time (situational leadership)
- It requires time, space and the opportunity for people who have learned to comply and be silent, to learn to bring more of themselves to work
- It requires groups to have the resources and freedom to meet, learn, plan and reflect
- It requires a healthy relationship between responsibility and authority to act
- It is fostered rather than mandatory
- It is inclusive and participatory
- It requires people to be equipped with the tools and attitudes for effective human relations
- It requires a willingness to work with alternative approaches to power and authority
- It requires affective competence
- It is context specific
- It can mean different things to different people, therefore communication is critical
- It creates anxiety for centralised leaders who prefer control to trusting others
- It enables letting go more readily if there is a clear sense of the parameters for action and a shared understanding of the direction of travel.