The future is not what it was. Companies can’t predict it anymore, and uncertainty calls for adaptation and flexibility. Trust is the new liquid gold, continued eroded by the effects of an old-fashioned leadership style in a difficult context. Hierarchies are flattening in an attempt to make things simpler. And in the middle of this mist, a new paradigm is becoming a reality: the distributed leadership.
These times call for more disruption and innovation. New technologies are here to stay and change the way we work. Robots will soon replace low-skilled jobs, and it might not be too long before we’ll see mixed human and non-human working teams. Flatter organizations structures will define new collaborative and cross-functional environments. New situations require new skills. But not only. This new situation also requires a different perspective.
Leadership is a broad concept, and yet many of the studies have the figure of the leader at the core. That person-centered leadership idea is probably limiting our capacity to be agile. It is the time to explore a different perspective, in which the network has more importance than the individual.
Distributed leadership comes from the idea that leadership is the result of a network’s actions rather than a single person’s, it’s the sum of many leadership behaviors coming from any part of the company. This avoids the typical leader-follower dynamic, opening the possibility of leading to those who usually are out of the game. As a result, a more collaborative and innovative schema is possible.
Nature provides us with different examples of this distributed leadership. Take the flight of the starlings. These animals can form a cohesive flock in uncertain environments and with little information (and a lot of noise). Their secret is that each of them only follows (and leads) a limited number of members, independently of how big the flock is. The one who has the better information leads in each moment. As a result, they can maintain cohesion, movements’ synchronization and speed with a reasonable individual effort.
The secret behind a distributed leadership is a shared responsibility and shared power, with a focus on participation and collaboration. Individuals should be encouraged to take responsibility and being autonomous. They must work for whole’s benefit. Organizations which want to shift from the classical commanding leadership to a more distributed one should promote a democratic culture in which the decision-making process involves a diverse range of stakeholders.
Therefore, the role of the now top managers must change. They need to set the conditions for their employees to take over, establishing the right corporate culture and values, the desired vision, and empower people to contribute with the best of their knowledge, expertise, skills, and ideas. No less, no more. Just support the change