The concept of collective leadership is that we each, within us, have the capacity to be a leader. Thus, organisations who share this value encourage this internal leader to emerge, and to become an integral part of the business.
Rather than managing or directing employees, having them follow manuals and procedures to the letter and “just do” what they’re told to do, senior management are encouraging employees to contribute and speak up. By giving them a level of autonomy and accountability, it encourages them to take responsibility for their own actions and work practices.
Whilst it may appear to be heading toward a path of chaos, all employees are actually learning through their mistakes, as well as providing information and ideas on ways to be more efficient and effective in their roles. This is of benefit to both the employee and the business as a whole.
Management are also not immune to this idea. Instead of directing, they are encouraged to mentor and support. Extracting ideas and feedback provides them with opportunities to learn and grow.
Whilst appearing to be a relatively new phenomena and way of operating at a structural level, this concept has been around for thousands of years. Research into the indigenous communities, in both Australia and Africa, have shown the benefits of collective leadership.
The Indigenous Governance Toolkit says, “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to share many common cultural values and traditions to organise themselves, connect with each other, and collectively achieve the things that are important to them.”
So what collective leadership has done for the indigenous people is to build a common commitment to a goal, and build shared cultural values that lead the group forward.
Kellogg Leadership for Community Change has identified three underlying principles of collective leadership:
- Collective leadership is relational: the group as a whole is a leader in the community just as members within the group can be leaders within the group.
- Collective leadership is fluid: it emerges out of specific situations, the process of defining vision and setting direction, as well as exercising influence over other people and organizations; it becomes a shared function of the group.
- Collective leadership is transformational: it begins with a belief in and a commitment to social advocacy and social justice.
Collective leadership is inclusive by nature, and it creates the opportunity for everyone to share their skills and talents, as well as knowledge. Everyone has input and everyone is accountable for the result, and the weight of the leadership role is shared among the group.
While collective leadership is not suitable for all situations – at times there will be a need for traditional directive leadership – it is a style of leadership that we should be using more often, especially in circumstances of cultural change within the workplace.
Collective leadership: sustainable, inclusive, creative and relational. It’s the kind of leadership we should all be working towards.