“What’s this shared leadership that everyone keeps talking about? And why should I be bothered about it?”, spat Kabir as soon we sat down.
“You know the impact of good leadership at all levels of the organization, this is no different” Gopal responded. “In fact, it may be one of the most important pivots that you, as a CEO, have to improve your organisational performance.”
“But each member of my leadership team (LT) is a rock star, so why do I need to worry about this shared leadership?” He countered, citing one of the biggest misconceptions about leadership teams.
“That’s true. For them to reach this level, leading a function in a large organization, they better be good at their job. A CXO role does not come easy in a company such as yours” Gopal stated the obvious. “But, as the cliché goes, is their being together greater than the sum of the parts? In my experience of working with many LTs, I find the exact opposite. They may be on top of their game at the functional level but wearing the corporate hat is a different ball game. I often see people protecting their turf and very often prioritise their function over the corporate. They work and interact with each other only minimally and on a need to basis; blame is common and cross functional working needs super human effort, especially when the going gets tough. Conflicts abound and are either not resolved properly or brushed under the carpet where they fester and hold the organization back. And don’t get me started on the big egos.” Gopal elaborated.
“I can relate to that having been a member of many LTs” Kabir ruminated. “But that’s the nature of the beast. It’s a high stakes game and everyone’s pretty much on their own. Many organisations thrive on this stress and competition to get the best out of everyone and you know what – it works.”
“To what avail? Gopal enquired. “It’s a chimera. Though we all know it anecdotally, there is enough research too to tell us that leadership teams working well have a huge impact on the organisation’s performance. One research says the difference could be 1.9 times.”
“Hmmm. So, what will I see in a high performing LT or a shared leadership team as you call it? asked Kabir.
Gopal shared his understanding “There are 3 main things that will help create such a team. The first is a high level of trust and psychological safety. Where people have a sense of belonging to the team. Where we look out for each other and know the intent is to win together or lose together.
The second is the quality of their interaction where displaying vulnerability and authentic dialoguing are de-rigour. In such a space there is open communication and conflicts are not only resolved but welcomed and dealt with pro-actively.
The third is having a shared purpose and a clear sense of priorities. Also understanding their role as an LT and realising that their working needs to be one of their top most priorities. If that is nailed a lot of other stuff starts to happen.
There could be many other but, in my opinion, these are the main pillars and they work very closely with each other.”
Kabir heard him attentively, nodded and remarked “That sounds interesting and I can relate to it. I was fortunate enough to work in a few such teams in my career. The feeling was almost magical.”
“True and the impact of the organization is terrific. It’s quite a wonder that so much effort is spent on building individual leadership competencies but not the same with the Shared Leadership when the return of investment and effort is far better on it. I see having good performers in the team as the ‘physics’ whereas getting them to work well together as a shared leadership team is the ‘chemistry’ which fuels the Organization” Gopal smiled.
“So how can we create my LT into a high performing Shared Leadership team.” Kabir asked Gopal.
Gopal explained “Recently I did a similar exercise. It started with the CEOs intent and the aspiration of the team to become such a team. We had to align the organizational aspirations with the individual ones. We got them to realise that this is the new curve for them. Functional leadership is passé and their success as a corporate leader and being able to create shared leadership teams is what’s going to define their future success. This we did as part of a kick off workshop, where we also drew out a roadmap for becoming a shared leadership team. We did one touch point every month for a period of 8-9 months. Based on the requirements of the team we covered things like having authentic conversations, shared leadership behaviours to be exhibited, handling conflicts, giving and receiving developmental feedback, interpreting stories, using systems thinking, parallel thinking, fixing governance processes etc. The one on one coaching of the CEO and some other key individuals accelerates the process.”
Kabir grinned and said “Great, so when do we start.”