Exploring Shared Leadership

In my experience, leadership in many organizations is pretty much a one-way proposition and so, on a number of levels, fails to acknowledge the potential for leadership in us all.   In reality, designated leaders are often the “go to” people for most things and the rest of the folks, follow with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

Of course there is a growing trend now toward “engaging” employees so that their level of participation and meaningful contribution will increase happily for both the organization and the people who work in it.  I happen to like that notion very much.  But, like most trends, this one is probably not immune to the “BS” factor.

For example, those who speak proudly about their “teams” and talk at length about the wonderful opportunities they provide for people might believe they are building a workplace that engages their employees and creates an atmosphere of shared leadership. Maybe they’re right.  And maybe they aren’t and they’re just not seeing it.  Or, they see that they aren’t but talking about it seems somehow more proactive and better aligned with current thinking.

So I’ve been thinking too, about this question:

What are the clues that an organization, in spite of talking happily about employee engagement and shared leadership, may not be fostering an environment where it can flourish?

Okay, so it’s a big question.   And no, I don’t have all the answers to it but I do have a few ideas.  Hopefully, so will you, and, in the spirit of shared leadership you will choose to share your ideas too.

So here goes

  • If you spend a lot of money on training initiatives but don’t see a lot of positive change or improvement in the quality of either collective, or individual performance, you probably don’t have shared leadership

A lot of organizations spend inordinate amounts of time and money in support of training and education and yet tend to become apathetic when it comes to examining outcomes and application.

I think that if you want to nurture an atmosphere of shared leadership, you have to ask for, and expect to find, some tangible return on the investment you have made.  And that means becoming involved; applying more rigor to the process of learning; and providing space for people to use new skills and information in a way that enhances their performance.

  • If your office is full of monkeys, you probably don’t have shared leadership

Okay, so many will know what I’m talking about here but in case you don’t, the reference to monkeys is about how some designated leaders have a tendency to be the primary problem solver in their organizations, taking all the issues (aka monkeys) that others present to them as their own.   (More about Monkey Management here)

To me, evidence of shared leadership in an organization reveals itself when problems arise.  Those who are engaged and focused will not be seen casting problems off to someone else.   They may not have solutions to every problem but they will tend to stay with issues and work collaboratively with others to move toward reasonable conclusions and effective responses.

  • If you hear people talking more about their rights than their responsibilities, you probably don’t have shared leadership.

It seems to me there is a danger of some organizations spending so much time trying to please and cajole their workforces under the auspices of employee engagement that the pendulum swings a tad too far to the left.  People who come to expect certain considerations, indeed demand them, but fail to see, or exercise a reciprocal duty to contribute and perform, do little or nothing to promote the cause of shared leadership.   It is the role of the designated leader to ensure that each person in the organization is clear not only about his/her rights but also about what they are expected to produce. And then hold them accountable for it.

  • If, when new projects are begun, it seems that the same people volunteer to work on them & the rest tend to look quickly into their laps, you probably don’t have shared leadership.

There are a lot of reasons why people do not volunteer to undertake new projects.  But when the same people seem to be stepping up every time, to me, it means that the organization has not done enough work to make volunteering more effortless.  For instance, it’s a lot easier to give your time to something you believe in than something that just looks like work.

  • If you still find it necessary to closely monitor the comings and goings of people in your company, you probably don’t have shared leadership.

I have had countless bosses who liked nothing more than counting bums on chairs, taking stock of who came in early; who stayed late; and who took more that their allotted time for lunch.  I think we all know really, that the amount of time one occupies a chair in an office is not a reliable indicator of what one is producing.

Shared leadership includes a level of maturity that to me transcends that kind of practice and focuses instead on tangible outcomes.

So that’s it for now…  over to you.  What clues do you see that an organization is not as engaging as it purports to be?

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Filed under Building Relationships, Employee engagement, Leading Teams, Learning, motivating & Inspiring

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