Collective leadership is a style of leadership where multiple individuals exercise their leadership roles within a group – and then the entire group provides leadership to the wider organisation. It’s a fluid and flexible approach to leadership, where roles and resultant accountabilities evolve in response to changing circumstances. As a result, the power of a leadership team practising collective leadership is greater than the sum of the powers of the individual leaders.
Collective leadership contrasts with individual leadership, where the emphasis is on the individual. Individual leadership is a style of leadership that is emulated by many aspiring junior executives and actively encouraged through incentives and resulting rewards. The model is not only outdated in today’s increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world, but also fosters the erroneous belief that organisational leadership is about the individual, not the contribution that a group of individuals can collectively achieve.
Behaviours of collective leadership The most effective way of assessing whether collective leadership is practised in your organisation is to look for and assess a set of behaviours. The 10 behavious of collective leadership are:
Alignment Alignment is evident when the thinking and actions of all members of a leadership team are coherent and joined-up. This is opposed to leadership teams whose thinking and actions are fragmented, not joined-up nor aligned.
Accountability Accountability is evident when the leadership team accepts shared ownership and accountability for target outcomes and actions they collectively decide. This is opposed to members of a leadership team not accepting or practising shared accountability and only being interested in what they are individually accountable for.
Values Members of the leadership team have a shared set of values that shape their outlook and guide their decisions and actions. As opposed to members of the leadership team having different, and often conflicting, values.
Role Roles within the leadership team are flexible and fluid with individuals accepting new responsibilities as circumstances require. This is opposed to members of the leadership team having precisely defined roles beyond which they do not digress, and siloed behaviour is the norm.
Collaboration Members of the leadership team collaborate extensively and are willing to share their experience and expertise with colleagues. This is opposed to where there is no collaboration across the leadership team, there is no sharing of experience or expertise and leaders’ actions result in organisational silos.
Coaching Members of the leadership team constructively challenge each other and give ongoing constructive feedback. This is opposed to there being no peer-to-peer coaching and any feedback – if any – is only given by the head of the leadership team.
Communication Communication from all members of the leadership team is informative, comphrensive and consistent. This is opposed to communication being very limited, confusing and conflicting.
Support The leadership team supports each other both physically and emotionally. Seeking support is seen as a strength and source of development. This is opposed to members of the leadership team being very much on their own with no support offered or given. Furthermore, seeking support is seen as a weakness.
Decisions The process by which key decisions are made is transparent and open to constructive challenge by all members of the leadership team. The resultant decisions are a collective choice. This is opposed to where key decisions are made by only a few members of the leadership team, the process – such as it is – is not transparent nor open to question or challenge.
Strategy There is one coherent strategy shared by the leadership team that is focused on achieving a common set of outcomes. This is opposed to members of the leadership team having their individual strategies that are pulling the organisation in different, and often conflicting, directions that compete for limited resources.
Assessing the degree to which collective ledership behaviours are in place The degree to which a leadership team is practising collective ledership can be easily assessed from the behaviours you observe and the actions you experience. The purpose of such an assessment is not to find the ‘scientific truth’, but to create a dialogue amongst the team on how their collective leadership could be enhanced. For this reason it’s called a ‘dialogic assessment’ rather than an audit.
The following simple assessment criteria could be used:
No evidence of the behaviour being present.
Some colleagues exhibit the behaviour some of the time.
Most colleagues exhibit the behaviour some of the time.
Most colleagues exhibit the behaviour most of the time.
The behaviour is consistently but not robustly in place.
The behaviour is consistently and robustly in place.
The results can be presented in many ways. One of the most effective is spider diagram (as illustrated in the main image) where the individual assessments for each of the 10 behavious are presented as a composite picture. The benefit of presenting it this way is that the degree to which each behaviour is present, across all members of the leadership team, is quickly apparent.
In addition the assessment could also be undertaken by those reporting to the leadership team and colleagues from other parts of the organisation in order to get a 360-degree perspective. Furthermore, the assessment could also be undertaken periodically in order to assess progress.
Final thought Collective leadership is not an alternative to individual leadership. It’s a model of leadership that takes individual leadership to the next – collective – level. Greater collective leadership is particularly important in today’s VUCA world, as with without collective leadership there will be no collective strategy, and without a collective strategy an organisation has very little chance of successfully changing its trajectory to one that leads to an improved future.
More reading The case for greater collective leadership is argued in a post entitled The Case for Greater Collective Leadership and the principles by which an organisation needs to operate in order to create the conditions for collective leadership are covered in Operating Principles for Collective Leadership.
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