Distribute your leadership

In her Ted Talk Great leadership is a network, not a hierarchy Gitte Frederiksen explores the merit of organisations shaking up the traditional hierarchical business structure in what she refers to as a necessary “movement” of “distributed leadership”. Think of the visual representation of a traditional hierarchal model – which has a few leaders at the top and everyone else underneath them waiting for direction. In such a business model, communication flows from the top down along just one line, meaning it often doesn’t match the complexities of problems that pop up and move in several directions at once. This model can become ineffective, as business issues that arise are often dynamic and complex and if the decision maker is singular and removed from the problem as it arises, the flow of leadership is not ideal. “Decisions are left to one person, the leader, who, being only human, can become a bottleneck of speed and scale. They can miss new ideas, diverse capabilities and the potential that exists all over the chart”. Consider shifting the visual flow chart of your organization (with the leaders at the top) into a network map, where everyone is a leader; replacing the “power of the few, with the influence of the many”. Giving everyone the ability to take on some leadership within their role, empowering them to make decisions, creates a workplace that is arguably more dynamic, responsive, more engaged and more resilient. 

So how can businesses do this? The answer lies with leadership – the few – to let go of some of their power and empower others. “People are much more likely to do things if they feel a sense of ownership and “it was my idea” versus being told what to do. We need to create leaders, not followers.” The practical ways to do this are; 

Share everything. 

Too often than not, important information, ideas, research are kept under lock and key by certain people or departments in businesses. Information is not readily shared, for various reasons. Creating a business culture and using digital platforms designed for sharing information should be encouraged. Don’t let the fear of the information not being relevant, or overloading people stand in the way. We are used to information overload. Think of social media, we have figured out how to navigate our way to the information that is relevant to us and ignore that which isn’t. Most businesses use digital platforms that allow us to share information easily. It’s much better to have the information available if needed, than to not have it at all; “Because the upside of sharing everything is huge. We can leverage the power of the crowd much better when we all have context.” A culture of sharing creates more connectedness. It doesn’t need to be limited to sharing of information. The same platforms can be used to ask for ideas and information. This has the added benefit of getting buy -n early on in a project; if people feel involved early on, they are more likely to fully embrace new ideas and processes once they are implemented. 

Get rid of titles. 

We need to embrace the concept that good ideas can come from any person in an organisaition, regardless of their role or title or what department they belong to. Going strictly to marketing to think of all the creative ideas might be limiting your businesses capacity to co-create and evolve your ideas to get to the very best one. This approach means you’ll never know the full potential of everyone in the business. Labels have a way of boxing people in and not allowing people’s diverse skill set to be truly realised. If the people in finance never get the chance to think and share any creative marketing ideas, then you’ll never really know their full creative potential. No one person can come up with the best idea anyway, they need to be shared and built on in a collaborative way. 

Be nice to one another. 

Frederiksen suggests the other key way to create truly distributed leadership is to be kind. She uses the example of someone sharing a mistake with the whole team as soon as it’s realised. The response from the team comes flooding in quickly; “Thanks for sharing, that takes courage”, “good learnings for next time”, “no mistakes would mean we weren’t moving fast enough”. The whole team feels safe and supported, more accountable, more comfortable to try new things and discover new, better ways forward. 

This flat model, this anti-hierarchy allows people to feel more empowered and therefore more productive. Businesses can be more adaptable and more able to tackle problems as they come in thick and fast with a distributed leadership model. 

How does your company stack up? Could your leadership be more distributed?  Could your leadership team benefit from one of my tailored workshops? Please get in touch today . I’d love to help!

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