The president of the United States. The Super Bowl–winning quarterback. The legendary CEO.
While one might assume that having a single leader is preferable, recent studies are showing that shared leadership is beneficial for businesses. This fits in with our Employee Engagement Report, which predicts that “managing sideways” will be on the increase. Employees holding each other accountable allows for a more flexible, engaged workforce.
Businesses today are questioning the single-leader model that was popular in the twentieth century. Surveys have consistently demonstrated that millennials especially prefer a less-hierarchical organizational culture. Although this system is challenging for businesses to implement, it does have benefits.
Meeting the Demands of Business Today
One factor experts cite is the challenges of managing a company in today’s complex world. From integration of technology into the workplace to dealing with multiple stakeholders and greater competition, businesses need more than one leader. Things are changing fast in the 21st century, and organizations need to build a pipeline of promising leaders.
“It is becoming more difficult for any single individual to possess all of the skills and abilities required to competently lead an organization today,” a Regent University study found. The study also said that while implementing a shared leadership model might be difficult, its benefits are promising. “Organizations of all types should take notice and consider implementing a shared leadership approach.”
One major problem businesses are facing is lack of colleague follow-through. However, gaining employee buy-in and ownership of initiatives provides internal motivation to get things done.
For example, Gore Associates, a 9,000-employee, Delaware-based company that makes Gore-Tex, has small offices with no more than 150 people in each, despite the large size of the company. They have instituted a radical no-supervisor system, according to Business News Daily. By doing so, employees accept work rather than having it assigned to them. The company says that this allows for a more creative and responsive workplace.
In a nonhierarchical system, no one can claim that their role is insignificant. In this way, employees will be more self-motivated.
Driven by Ideas
Shared leadership results in a system that is more meritocratic. The best ideas rise to the top — it doesn’t matter who came up with the idea. Successful businesses understand that often the best ideas come from those working at the ground level.
A study of nonprofit organizations found that changing to shared leadership was difficult, with the short-term effect being less efficiency due to more complex decision-making processes. However, these organizations benefited in the end from a more flexible system. Leaders initially had trouble with their new roles, but in the end, the pressure exerted on them was lessened.
Gaining employee buy-in and ensuring accountability is crucial to maintaining employee engagement. More businesses are switching to a shared leadership model with this in mind.