Could a shared leadership framework enable organizations to deal with complexity, improve decision-making, enable adaptability and nimbleness, and increase performance across the board? Researchers such as Craig L. Pierce and Henry P. Sims Jr. would say yes! What exactly is shared leadership and how could it improve an organization’s performance?
Shared leadership is a multi-faceted model of leading. Even though there is not a great deal of research in this area, studies conducted to date have demonstrated that the implementation of shared leadership has led to high performance teamwork. Much of this research measures how an increase in influence behaviors and the creation of a learning culture increases capacity for leadership and enhance team performance.
Fundamentally, I believe that shared leadership is an important model for today’s organization because it involves a shift of responsibility from a single leader to distributed leadership, which evokes a higher degree of collaboration—one of the necessary components for dealing with complexity. In a shared leadership model, organizations rely less on heroic, independent thinking to solve challenging problems and embrace a relational, interdependent engagement process.
In 2003, researchers Joyce K. Fletcher and Katrin Kaeufer posited that shared leadership is a way of learning that involves an embedded capacity for 360-degree influence and a propensity for systems thinking rather than a one-directional, silo- oriented, problem-solving approach. Sounds good right? The actual implementation of this model, however, can be challenging, especially in traditional organizational cultures.
A relational perspective underlies the concepts in shared leadership and serves to bind people in a purposeful learning environment, according to Fletcher and Kaeufer, and a balancing of power. Basically those in power need to empower employees and take accountability for participating in a shared approach to leading and operating. The central outcome of this type of collective learning culture is to be open to influence from multiple sources both vertically and horizontally in the system in order to create shared understanding and mutual accountability. The common currency of a team practicing shared leadership is dialogue, which is the means to uncover hidden beliefs, assumptions, and values as well as to share knowledge and connect the dots enabling the emergence of shared meaning. Of particular importance is the team member’s proclivity for curiosity and skill in balancing advocacy and inquiry while engaging in honest conversations. In essence, an organization seeking to embrace a shared leadership model would need to value relationships and develop skill in communication and collaboration.
One model of shared leadership is shown in embedded diagram, which was adapted from multiple sources. This model includes five key components: (1) a commitment to shared values, (2) an openness to 360-degree influence, (3) encouragement for collective learning, (4) engagement for mutual accountability, and (5) skill and willingness to bring backbone and heart to relationships and communications. In addition to these components, the pre-requisites for shared leadership include identification of a shared purpose, clear mutual goals, and time to engage in dialogue and relationship building.
So what are the benefits of building the capacity for leadership that is shared and challenging? Organizations that struggle with common or repeat problems and poor performance may find value and increased employee engagement in shifting their culture towards a more transformational, shared leadership model. This approach may provide a way of shifting behavior to change the usual and ineffective approach to one that brings more creativity, thinking and energy to the table.