Logo for Saybrook University


Sharing the Responsibility of Leading: Employee Engagement & Shared Leadership

By: Susan Hoberecht | 25 Oct | 1 comment


Diagram courtesy of Susan Hoberecht.

Could a shared leadership framework enable organizations to deal with complexity, improve decision-making, enable adaptability and nimbleness, and increase performance across the board?  Researchers such as Craig L. Pierce and Henry P. Sims Jr. would say yes! What exactly is shared leadership and how could it improve an organization's performance? 

Shared leadership is a multi-faceted model of leading. Even though there is not a great deal of research in this area, studies conducted to date have demonstrated that the implementation of shared leadership has led to high performance teamwork. Much of this research measures how an increase in influence behaviors and the creation of a learning culture increases capacity for leadership and enhance team performance.  

Fundamentally, I believe that shared leadership is an important model for today's organization because it involves a shift of responsibility from a single leader to distributed leadership, which evokes a higher degree of collaboration—one of the necessary components for dealing with complexity. In a shared leadership model, organizations rely less on heroic, independent thinking to solve challenging problems and embrace a relational, interdependent engagement process.

In 2003, researchers Joyce K. Fletcher and Katrin Kaeufer posited that shared leadership is a way of learning that involves an embedded capacity for 360-degree influence and a propensity for systems thinking rather than a one-directional, silo- oriented, problem-solving approach. Sounds good right? The actual implementation of this model, however, can be challenging, especially in traditional organizational cultures.

A relational perspective underlies the concepts in shared leadership and serves to bind people in a purposeful learning environment, according to Fletcher and Kaeufer, and a balancing of power. Basically those in power need to empower employees and take accountability for participating in a shared approach to leading and operating. The central outcome of this type of collective learning culture is to be open to influence from multiple sources both vertically and horizontally in the system in order to create shared understanding and mutual accountability. The common currency of a team practicing shared leadership is dialogue, which is the means to uncover hidden beliefs, assumptions, and values as well as to share knowledge and connect the dots enabling the emergence of shared meaning. Of particular importance is the team member's proclivity for curiosity and skill in balancing advocacy and inquiry while engaging in honest conversations. In essence, an organization seeking to embrace a shared leadership model would need to value relationships and develop skill in communication and collaboration.

One model of shared leadership is shown in embedded diagram, which was adapted from multiple sources. This model includes five key components: (1) a commitment to shared values, (2) an openness to 360-degree influence, (3) encouragement for collective learning, (4) engagement for mutual accountability, and (5) skill and willingness to bring backbone and heart to relationships and communications. In addition to these components, the pre-requisites for shared leadership include identification of a shared purpose, clear mutual goals, and time to engage in dialogue and relationship building.

So what are the benefits of building the capacity for leadership that is shared and challenging? Organizations that struggle with common or repeat problems and poor performance may find value and increased employee engagement in shifting their culture towards a more transformational, shared leadership model. This approach may provide a way of shifting behavior to change the usual and ineffective approach to one that brings more creativity, thinking and energy to the table.

Read other posts by Susan Hoberecht

Keep up with our community: Facebook | Twitter | Saybrook's Organizational Systems Program


Comments and Discussions

leading is engaging

As a Psychologist I have put behavioral and brain science to the test on diverse turf- teaching at Dartmouth Med School, counseling abused children and their families, motivating people like you and me to accept the life-altering diagnoses that blindsided them and to proactively craft a strategy and implement it to stay in the game, and consulting with competitors in sports, business, and politics for the past 15 years.

As an athlete I understood the state that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls 'flow'- that state of complete engagement where we do our best. I researched the dynamics of flow in the early 90s and concluded that personal leadership is a matter of learning to engage one's self- and others with the challenge-at-hand. In the mid-90s, I was recruited to work first with nationally-ranked athletes to teach them how to get into that flow state that athletes call being 'in the zone'.

The system I had developed, based on my research, was based on research into the fields of behavioral and brain and sports science and mind-body medicine. The systems model and its strategies have enabled clients to get 'in the zone' for leading others through challenges and change and to move their strategy from a nice data-supported vision to real action- i.e., out of the 70 to 80% of strategies that are never implemented.

In 2004, McGraw-Hill published the system in a book I authored titled The Winner's Way. It's not about winning- it is about engaging yourself and others with the challenge. Winning - personal and team bests- that's just a nice side effect.

Without engagement, we walk through life to experience lives half-lived. When we are engaged and when we engage others- we lead lives proactively, with purpose and passion, focused on the 'as is' and moving toward what we want and what could be - moving with energy and momentum. And we celebrate our collective achievements.

To me, leading is engaging. Leading 'in the zone' is a life worth living.

Facebook Twitter LinkedIn YouTube Google Plus