Business management is changing from old, authoritarian models to more open models as many companies have become inspired by social media and newer web technologies, thus they have begun to facilitate the sharing of information.
Dubbed ‘shared leadership’, the modern approach to getting work done is being employed by more and more companies. It could help small businesses grow without investing in new employees or high-salaried managers.
What is shared leadership?
Most companies are organised on the premise that the smartest company is the one with the smartest individuals given the authority to manage the work of others. The digital revolution is spawning an entirely different management model where the assumption is that the smartest companies have quick access to the collective knowledge of the company.
According to a study published in the International Journal of Artificial Intelligence and Agent Technology, shared leadership can be defined as ‘broadly sharing power and influence among a set of individuals rather than centralising it in the hands of a single individual who acts in the clear role of a dominant superior.’
Shared leadership is different from the traditional vertical hierarchy management style where those in management positions are responsible for the bulk of the decision making and those in subordinate roles have little input in the decision-making process.
Shared leadership allows for a more collaborative effort where one person is still in charge, but power and influence are shared within the group. This could mean that each person has more autonomy over decisions related to their position, or it could also allow a more open-door policy in which everyone’s ideas are given fair consideration.
Why is shared leadership important?
It leads to better organisational performance and it has a positive influence on the way a company operates because it encourages and values personal initiative. When employees feel empowered to do what they know they need to do instead of waiting to be told what to do, both productivity and job satisfaction increase.
When individuals feel that they have an impact on the organisation and that they have some power and responsibility, they have a greater desire for success. Goals become more personal to them, and people naturally work harder at anything they are personally invested in. The best examples of shared leadership are when decision making gets spread across multiple individuals.
Examples of shared leadership
Shared leadership may be a relatively new concept in the business world, but it can be seen in the government structure of democracies. Instead of one person, having all of the decision-making power, the power is shared among different branches of government, with the president or prime minister taking the ultimate leadership role.
Some businesses now work without supervisors, and work is accepted by, rather than assigned to, employees. The company uses its employees' collective knowledge of people to develop ideas and workflow.
How to develop shared leadership
There are three basic principles in creating shared leadership:
Providing a safe environment
Transparency is key to employee trust and satisfaction. It also allows everyone involved to be on the same page. According to a survey, transparency was the determining factor in employee happiness, with a 93% correlation rate to happiness.
A safe environment means that employees feel comfortable sharing their ideas. Great ideas often come from the people doing their everyday to-do lists, because they are the most experienced at doing their job. They are also often the first to notice when something isn't working correctly. When employees feel that their ideas are heard and welcomed, the team benefits from their observations.
Supporting autonomy means that employees need the freedom to make some of the decisions regarding their work. Not all companies will adopt a model which lets employees choose which jobs to take. However, most businesses can benefit from giving more autonomy in select areas.
For small businesses, shared leadership could be as simple as creating a meeting format in which employees talk about how ideas are different and where there is an agreement, rather than arguing over whose idea is better. This new way of managing may be as simple as giving people responsibility for things and making sure their supervisors are open to hearing employees' input on the subject.
It's not the same as giving equal responsibility or the same responsibility to more than one person. It’s about making sure managers have an open door and that those who take a risk and share an idea or alert managers to a problem don't get punished for it.
Does shared leadership work?
Teams with shared leadership have less conflict, more consensus, more trust, and more cohesion than teams that do not have shared leadership.
Shared leadership has far-reaching benefits for members of the organisation and the company as a whole. It increases employee engagement and job satisfaction, and it allows the company to adapt to change more quickly and come up with innovative new ideas.