The one and only

Jeff Bezos. Jack Ma. Christine Lagarde. They all have one thing in common: they are considered people with excellent and extraordinary leadership skills. Powerful people leading big corporations or holding high political offices. They’re role models with huge leadership responsibility, they make important decisions, delegate tasks and projects. When we think of leaders, it’s their faces which pop up in our heads. Pictures of that one, intrepid person who provides direction and leads their team and company through any crisis. That one person everything stands and falls with—because in the end, someone has to be responsible… right?

What if…?

Let’s start a little thought experiment: What if not one, but several persons would take over this responsibility? What if leadership wasn’t a strict one-person show, but managerial functions and leadership responsibilities were shared among several team members and taken over by all of them collectively?

What does shared leadership mean?

Well, shared leadership means exactly what the name suggests: managerial functions aren’t the responsibility of just one person, but distributed among an entire team. Anyone in this team can take over a leading role—they lead collectively and, more importantly, also each other.

Another variant of the shared leadership principle allows different team members to take over leading roles, too. This second variant also monitors whether real influence is exerted over other team members. The crucial question here is whether taking over a leading role also leads to a so-called shared followership, and whether people in a team can be both leaders and followers.

The benefits of shared leadership

The fact that different people take over leading roles within one team automatically fosters more diverse and varied ideas and solutions. Depending on the requirements or tasks, leaders cede or take over responsibilities. The responsibility is equally distributed and shared. This also ensures that the team is working towards one common vision and sets goals collectively. Inspiration and motivation are born and nourished within this heterogeneous team. So far, so idyllic.

Where to find shared leadership

Being both leader and follower at the same time and giving priority to the group as a whole might seem utopian at first, but is already being practiced in many different organizations. Especially start-ups, but also collaborative interorganizational networks, are already following the principle of shared leadership. Agility, digitization and new work are processes and phenomena that increasingly question the hierarchical structures we’ve become used to over the years. Modern companies have to tackle complex tasks and establish multilayered processes. Shared leadership is a valuable addition to—or might even completely replace—classic hierarchical structures, especially in the realm of innovation and wherever heterogeneous teams work together. After all, distributing managerial functions among several persons or an entire team can definitely improve employee satisfaction and reduce conflicts within a company. Thanks to alternating between the leader’s and the follower’s point of view, the shared leadership principle may have positive effects on team spirit and willingness to cooperate, too.

Are you ready to share?

The shared leadership approach is dynamic per se and, therefore, calls for regular assessments and adaptations to the current business environment. The approach enables flexibility, while requiring that same characteristic from every leader, and needs to keep evolving. Mixing a handful of leaders to create a new team is not enough—shared leadership is more than that.

As a consequence, it’s not a one-day project to establish shared leadership within a company. 

This requires planning, sensitive adaptation of the organizational culture, thoughtful monitoring of and support throughout the process and, above all, the commitment and appropriate mindset of everyone involved.

One thing is for sure: shared leadership is trending—and offers huge potential for tackling complex tasks and multilayered processes. Therefore, shared leadership definitely has the potential to pave the way for new forms of leadership.

What about you? Are you ready to share leadership responsibilities yet? Get in touch if you’re looking for support on the way!