Shared leadership – strong together

Shared leadership is on everyone’s lips. Shared leadership, double power – that’s the theory. But how can this model assert itself? Paul Fortmeier, Managing Director of the German Society for Supervision and Coaching, and his colleague Robert Erlinghagen, Coach, Supervisor and Trainer, know how shared leadership can work. They explained the New Work model, explained benefits and warned about risks.

LEAD: Shared Leadership – how does this model fit into the new world of work?

Paul Fortmeier: Leadership is the place where traction is created for a cause, motivation is awakened and creativity is released. Shared leadership means not only to see these functions in one person, but to divide them into different shoulders. In addition, there are management functions that need to be managed, such as organizational structures and processes to make reliable and comprehensible, to control the use of resources or to keep a team in the company back. It is obvious that these functions can not all come from one source.

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Robert Erlinghagen: This model fits very well into the new world of work, which is often referred to as VUKA, which means as volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous or ambivalent. Such a work environment makes decision-making more difficult and often leads executives to their limits and employees to be disappointed in their expectations of executives.

Robert Erlinghagen High 300dpi
(Image: Robert Erlinghagen)

However, this is not necessarily due to personal abilities of executives or employees, but more often to the way in which, when and how they communicate with each other. Shared leadership means that the success of leadership is not the responsibility of a single manager alone, but of the individual system as a whole, and that the distribution of this responsibility is always negotiated transparently. Leadership is taken over by different actors in a task- and situation-related manner and for a limited time. Shared leadership and other approaches, such as classical hierarchical leadership, can coexist very well. The central task of the hierarchical leadership is then to direct the process of role clarification, and to withdraw into the follower role, if the situation requires it.

Paul Fortmeier High 300Dpi
(Image: Paul Fortmeier)

Fort Meier: Shared Leadership is designed to distribute power and responsibility so that the right people in the right places can do the right thing at the right time. For this they need both the support and following of their colleagues as well as the backing of the corporate officers.

LEAD: Why is Shared Leadership suitable?

Erlinghagen: Shared leadership, if it works well, leads to a huge identification with the organization, the team and the common task. Decisions are made on a sounder basis and supported more.

LEAD: What should be considered as a company?

Erlinghagen: Shared leadership is above all a matter of attitude. It goes well beyond the cooperative style of leadership, because it is about shared responsibility and planned role changes. However, leadership does not just have a factual dimension. Leading and following are very emotional, archaic principles.

Experience from group dynamics shows that there is a human need for a supportive and orientation-giving leadership by personalities. Therefore, logical reasons for assigning leadership responsibility can not be the yardstick alone, and therefore meta-communication is very important.

“The star is not the individual, but the team, the team.”
Paul Fortmeier

LEAD: How can Shared Leadership work well?

Fort Meier: In some complex organizations, the change between leadership and collaboration is not uncommon. Many consultant networks work that way. In classical project work there are corresponding approaches, as well as in group work in manufacturing companies. Often start-ups or small businesses can not function otherwise and apply the concept of shared leadership, without naming it that way.

Especially in the creative or digital field, this is obvious. In large companies, there are individual areas, for example where creativity and team performance are particularly important, in which shared leadership would be a good management model. Remember team sport: Footballers who have shown a great individual performance in a match and scored three goals will always say that their performance would not have been possible without the team. The coach will agree. The star is not the individual, but the team, the team.

Smart is to charge company that team performance can not fall from the sky nor be accomplished by appeal or direction. Also, the social negotiation processes that are required to establish a functioning shared leadership and to keep it functioning need time and a willingness to engage with the team and leadership processes. Here it is often very helpful if outside support is provided by a coach, so that a team does not lose in power struggles.

Erlinghagen: External advice can help to create transparency about how decisions are made and how they can be implemented. This does not yet shake the organizational foundations of a company, but it is a step towards shared responsibility for the success of leadership.

The prerequisite is that there is a relaxed, non-ideological understanding of leadership and employee roles, and that these are considered equivalent. That the change from leader to follower is not seen as a step backwards, but as business as usual. For companies, this can mean a real cultural change, a first-rate paradigm shift.

LEAD: And what are the risks?

Erlinghagen: Like any concept, shared leadership can be used abusively, for example as an excuse for formally appointed executives, less or no longer accepting responsibility, or as overburdening of employees who suddenly face inappropriate tasks and responsibilities under the pretext of promoting self-development and participation be pushed. Since leadership is structurally mostly associated with privileges and legal responsibilities, this must also be considered in the introduction.

Fort Meier: Last but not least, shared leadership questions not only worldviews that the lonely decision-maker sees as the forefront of the food chain, but also the entire logic of reward and gratification derived from it. Introduction and application take time and attention. Every innovation first needs an investment before there can be a return on investment. Nevertheless, it is easy to start even on a small scale.

LEAD:What competences should a shared leader bring?

Fort Meier: Since the permanent negotiation process on roles and responsibilities is at the core of the concept, special communicative and social skills are required. Above all, however, shared leadership calls for the willingness to take on the role of follower if necessary. That’s why companies are increasingly in need of concepts for good impact, maybe even more than good leadership.

LEAD: What does good followership mean in companies?

Erlinghagen:
Followership means sharing responsibility for the success of leadership. This is anything but blind obedience, but a constructive, critical, courageous, independent co-design of work processes and roles in the sense of the common task.

It means, for example, sharing knowledge and information, knowing one’s own strengths, supporting the respective leader in principle or – if necessary – changing one’s own views in order to create a consensus in the team and give the team positive impulses. But it also means constructively criticizing the behavior of the leader and the group if that behavior jeopardizes the common task, or even rejects ethical misconduct or abuse of power.

LEAD: Whe manages a good connection between leadership and followership

Fortmeier: leading and following are two sides of the same coin. Without followership no leadership. So far, however, companies are often concerned only with how they make managers fit for their leadership role. Actually, it’s all about making everyone fit, seeing the shared responsibility and taking it out of their different roles. And then open communication is required: Who expects what from whom?

LEAD: How do companies react to the new approaches in the world of work?

Erlinghagen: There are probably two main trends: those who are primarily driven by economic results and use those approaches without taking the emancipatory approach they take seriously. They have to be careful not to do the exact opposite: frustrated employees, who seem to be taken aback, because the hierarchies and roles do not really change anything.

And then there are those who really want to try something new and who have the courage to embark on unfamiliar terrain. They need a bit of perseverance because such cultural changes do not happen overnight. As a third group, of course, there are those start-ups that are more participatively organized from the outset. They must be careful that they also make their structures crisis-proof and do not confuse a flexible change of roles between leadership and consequences with chaos, arbitrariness and role confusion.

LEAD: Your prognosis: How will the new world of work change in the direction of leadership?

Erlinghagen: Some prophets claim that the importance of leadership diminishes and is replaced by much more self-organization. We are skeptical. We believe that leadership and executives will continue to be in demand in the future. Beyond all rational aspects, they are increasingly important in the VUKA world as a projection screen and identification figures. However, their role changes. You will have to go into these emotional, soft factors much more than before. One way to do that is shared leadership.

Fort Meier: I am convinced that the future belongs to the companies that get the “three P” under one roof: people, planet, profit. This is a new topic, but shared leadership can certainly contribute here and there.

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