If an organisation has recognised that it needs to take a new strategic direction and to make bold decisions to change the default future of the organisation, the success of implementing the strategic change relies upon the wider organisation engaging with the decision, not simply complying with it. Responsibility for engaging the organisation lies with the leadership team.
Yet, when people talk about leadership, often the focus is on the leader as an individual; not a leadership team. We look at their individual ability to role model behaviours, to communicate effectively with their teams and to hold people accountable.
However, we tend to think considerably less about the importance of ‘collective leadership’ and whether all of the leadership team demonstrates the same unified voice and consistency in their behaviour. This is why organisations find leading change to be an extremely difficult challenge.
What do we mean by collective leadership?
Collective leadership is a fluid and flexible approach to leadership, where roles and responsibilities often evolve in response to changing circumstances. However, accountability for decisions and communicating them effectively to the wider team is felt equally across the leadership team. It’s present when the leaders of an organisation collectively:
- Acknowledge that it’s both their individual and shared accountability to confront the default future of the organisation
- Make informed decisions regarding the opportunities that exist for the organisation and to define and execute the organisation’s new strategy
- Establish and maintain the conditions for success needed to operationalise the new strategy
It’s important to understand the distinction between collective leadership and teamwork. Teamwork exists when we’re clear on the roles that need to be filled and the task is defined, it’s a case of executing effectively.
Collective leadership requires the leadership team to consider the ‘why’ question, to assess all of the possibilities that exist and collectively decide on the priorities and collectively implement the plan.
Is individual leadership bad?
No. Individual leadership absolutely has its place in developing people and increasing the performance of the organisation. However, when it comes to making difficult decisions regarding the strategic future of the organisation then collective leadership is essential.
Why might individual leadership be a barrier to strategic decisions?
Think about a time when an important decision was made in your team through a consensus vote. The intentions behind taking the vote might have been positive, but how consistent were all of the leaders in implementing the change that was voted for?
Typically, those individuals who ‘lose’ the vote struggle to engage with the new direction, drag their heels and, at worst, intentionally sabotage the effort, so they can point out it was the wrong course of action.
Sometimes, even when a decision is made unanimously, individual leadership can have a detrimental impact on leading change. People with different leadership styles and different priorities for their team may agree to a change but implement it differently to others. This lack of consistently can be destructive as wider teams recognise some managers as role modelling the behaviours, holding people accountable and engaging their teams while others fail to do so. This can be a virus that creates resistance to change.
Why is collective leadership important?
Without collective leadership, there will be no collective strategy, and without a collective strategy an organisation will pull itself in multiple directions. When that happens it will have very little chance of successfully changing its trajectory and going beyond its default future.
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