Leadership: New Ways of Leading
Redefining Leadership. The belief that a single person called a leader or manager can lead us to a successful future is a myth. Acts of leadership must come from all of us.
The pressure and stress that people in leadership positions face is enormous. Today, it is highly unlikely that a single person can provide the necessary leadership for all issues. Those in designated leadership roles and those who are followers need to let go of that expectation and embrace new ways of leading.
Some of our expectations of leadership fall into what has been referred to as the John Wayne School of Leadership. This viewpoint suggests that an individual who has the experience, knowledge, skill, charisma, vision, decision-making ability, interpersonal skills, respect, stature, role (position), etc. will provide the leadership to lead us out of this mess. We often expect that a person who seeks a leadership position or who occupies a leadership position have all of these characteristics. How many people do you know that fulfill your every expectation as a leader? It becomes easier to understand why people choose not to seek such roles.
What Is Effective Leadership? Among the solutions, I believe, is shared leadership. This implies the concept that the management team take on the responsibility for leadership. Thus, rather than perpetuating the belief that a single individual with enormous leadership abilities who is the formal leader can lead us to a successful future, we are in need of other individuals, who are group members, to take on responsibility for leadership. Particularly when he/she has the expertise, experience, or passion for a particular issue.
Shared leadership does not abdicate the formal leader's accountability. It does imply a shared responsibility for problem identification, solutions, and action taking. It also means the leader and management team skills need to include how work gets done (process) and task. Skills such as team building, conflict management, building a new culture (e.g., total quality) are among the skills leaders need to build successful organizations that compete in this highly competitive and changing economy we live in today.
Perhaps one of the great barriers to shared leadership is the inability or unwillingness to take risks. The failure to take risks can have a paralyzing effect on both the individual's and the organization's ability to learn. In spite of this rather common sense notion, we often seem to support the open second guessing of decisions—focusing on what is wrong or could have been done differently, rather than rewarding of the risk taking associated with making a decision.
Those in leadership positions need to create a climate in their organization that will encourage others to take risks, to confront the formal leader and others in the organization, to disagree, and to exhibit acts of leadership. It takes courage to put forth a viewpoint that is different from the prevailing or dominant thinking of a group. While it is the responsibility of the individual to put forth her or his idea (act of leadership); it is the group's responsibility to set up norms and an environment that supports the notion of risk taking and sharing leadership. The concept of shared leadership offers a way of increasing risk taking, innovation, and commitment that can create an organization that is responsive, flexible, and successful.
This shift in the leadership model from emphasis on the formal leader to a shared leadership model is subtle, powerful, and is needed now. The designated leader can no longer do it all. The stress, the complexity of the issues, the urgency for better decisions (not perfect decisions) places a burden on our leaders that few are willing to shoulder, much less capable of resolving alone effectively.
Often that initial act of
leadership requires courage, conviction, faith and trust since their are
no assurances that the followers will follow. Shared leadership recognizes
this reality and supports individuals who are in formal leadership roles
and those who exhibit acts of leadership.
Peter Smith is the President of Peter Smith Associates, a consulting firm located in Cumberland, Maine. You may contact Peter at (207)829-4112.