How power is obtained, maintained, used, and misused is very much a taboo topic at work. However, how leaders deploy power to accomplish objectives can have a critical impact on an organization. Shared leadership techniques have proven to be extremely effective across a wide range of organizations.
In its simplest form, power is the ability to get things done, especially through other people. A powerful leader can “mobilize the troops” by employing either formal (positional) power or more informal (personal) power. Great leaders, of course, have both. These successful leaders also tend to utilize a shared leadership model when it comes to using that power.
Being “power-hungry” is perceived as a bad thing. However, wanting it to either implement needed change or maintain a healthy status quo is just good sense for anyone striving to be a successful leader. Without power, leaders would find it difficult to drive behavior and outcomes.
However, in many cases, wielding that power single-handedly can be counterproductive and create quite a bit of resistance and resentment. Successful leaders understand when to exert power on their own and when to use shared leadership strategies to bring more people into conversations about what should be done next.
Involving more people in the decision-making process tends to lead to better outcomes. That’s because individuals often aren’t aware of the hidden biases that impact their decisions and thinking. Shared leadership also lays the foundation for true accountability, whether outcomes are positive or negative. Holding someone accountable for results they can’t control is unfair, ineffective, and bound to create friction and resentment.
Co-leadership increases loyalty and respect, which in turn creates positive relationships with minimum conflict. That’s because when a leader empowers employees, they feel trusted and capable. Soliciting others' opinions and advice through shared leadership activities demonstrates that a leader values what employees think and shows a degree of humility. Far from undermining their authority, leaders who are willing to admit they don’t know everything are much more likely to win their teams' trust and support than an overbearing “know-it-all” who doesn’t tolerate any dissent or criticism.
Without sharing power, succession planning will be a bust! People come, people go, and intelligent employers have a solid plan to replace their key players whenever the need arises. However, such a plan must ensure that those being groomed for higher responsibilities are allowed to learn the skills needed for shared leadership and grow through the assumption of greater levels of power. By entrusting high-potential employees with the power to make decisions, leaders can serve a mentorship role that better prepares leadership candidates for their future roles.
When leaders are generous with power, they actually create support groups for themselves. Rather than acting as “lone rangers,” these leaders have the benefit of leaning on their staff while knowing the job will get done. While leaders are always available to provide guidance when needed, their investment in their staff’s growth means they can depend on staff to “have their back” without fail.
If the shared leadership model has so many benefits, it may seem odd that more leaders aren’t using it. Unfortunately, sharing power doesn’t come easy for many executives, making it hard to understand the importance of shared leadership. It can feel like losing, and that’s scary (although they’d never admit it). Sharing also has the potential (or so they think) to deprive them of control over a situation, which is an unfortunate but very real interpretation.
Other leaders have the desire to share but lack the skills needed for shared leadership. They think they’re sharing, but they really aren’t. And so, they remain at the helm of most decisions, even ones that should clearly be in the domain of their subordinates. This creates more work for them and leaves employees frustrated and feeling like their leader isn’t willing to entrust them with anything.
Sometimes, and despite a leader’s best intentions and actions, an employee won’t meet the challenge of using the control they’re given. In some cases, employees need more guidance and direction to understand the characteristics of shared leadership. Perhaps they lack the experience or expertise to hold themselves accountable, or maybe they prefer being given specific instructions and tasks instead of taking responsibility for making important decisions.
However, with the right motivation, encouragement, and rewards, a slow-starter can be coached into taking the initiative, becoming a more critical thinker, and accepting more accountability for shared leadership. Employees who can’t be coached may have to be transferred into other, less senior positions, or transitioned out of the organization.
Like anything else in the corporate world, what’s rewarded will be replicated. Employers who want to set shared leadership examples within their organizations should focus on their managers’ abilities to get results via efficient delegation and collaboration.
Keep in mind that the characteristics of shared leadership come more naturally to some than to others. Fortunately, behavioral assessment tools, like Omnia’s employee selection and retention reports, can help employers determine which potential and current team members are more likely to lead collaboratively and possess the skills needed for shared leadership. The reports can also be used to coach employees in the direction the company wants them to go.
As technology and globalization create more complicated work, savvy companies will adopt shared leadership models that depend on less centralized power, knowing that their highest-performing employees will insist on having autonomy and authority to do their jobs.