Shared leadership is a style best adapted to work under highly uncertain and pressured environments. In the simplest possible terms, this means that the leader’s role in a group is automatically taken from and given to the person whose soft and hard skills make him or her mostly suited to provide guidance to the whole group in a given instance.
In this sense then the role of the leader is effectively shared by the whole group, as it is continuously passed around to different group members depending on what the environmental conditions require at that specific moment in time.
Shared leadership in practice
This is a very advanced leadership style, and one whose effectiveness and success heavily depend on how good a group’s communication and interaction skills are and on how much reciprocal trust and support each person is able and willing to give others.
In simple terms, shared leadership will only work if everyone is:
- able to observe and objectively perceive in detail the current environment and conditions;
- capable of understanding whether his or her own skills are more adapted than others’ to take on the role of the leader
- willing to give someone else the role of the leader because the person is the right choice at the moment
- able to communicate and build on other’s ideas at a very high level.
A group operating in this way is essentially a self-organizing team, which is also the best organizational setting to tackle situations of organizational improvisation. Organizational improvisation indicates your organizational setting in moments of very high pressure and uncertainty, where time is such a scarce resource that planning is eliminated from the work process and is integrated into acting – in simple terms: what you decide to do becomes your plan. Shared leadership is tightly linked to both organizational improvisation and self-organizing teams.
Integrating this way of working into an existing organization is no easy task. There are soft skills and communication skills required by everyone and most importantly everyone needs to be on board with the idea. This doesn’t mean it can’t be done, though.
What is fundamental to make sure that the implementation is successful is a solid base together with sustained practice. A workshop is a great place to start, but it shouldn’t be considered just as a one-time event. Instead you should look for regular work over time to practice those skills and maintain them active.
A ballpark estimate would be to consider one training workshop every 2 to 6 weeks, so that each time participant get to review the concepts touched in the previous ones and manage to gradually advance towards proficiency.