During my lunch break earlier this month I was watching ABC News. Before my lunch break I had no idea what I was going to write on this society new except that it was to relate to society leadership. 30 minutes make such a difference. You see, the breaking news was the leadership spill against Australia’ Prime Minister Tony Abbott. So my mind was made up and I am writing on the fifth quality of future leaders: Shared Leadership.
Traditional leadership is vertical or hierarchical with a top. Only one person can be at that top. As many people’s aspirations to get to the top is large, the one on the top needs removing before someone else can take over. This model gives leadership spills momentum. Democracies still use this traditional autocratic model. All except one. Switzerland.
The Swiss political parties share the leadership and have distributed power. There are 7 Councillors leading the nation. Each is presiding over one or two ministries. Every year a President is elected to chair the meetings of the Council and undertake ceremonial duties.
There are several benefits to shared leadership.
- Shared leadership allows for multiple leaders at the top at the same time giving more than one person a chance to fulfil their ambition.
- The collective is able to reign in a rogue leader and support him/her within their area of expertise.
- Shared leadership distributes the responsibility for media and portfolio leadership. Individual Councillors are responsible for media representation. I remember an interview with Julia Gillard stating that she spent several hours each morning studying the current policy issues so she could competently and confidently answer all the questions in Parliament. It seems rather a waste of time for a PM to read up on minute detail of legislation just to be seen as a competent leader. Within the current hierarchical model we make the PM responsible to know everything rather than letting them lead the whole ship. No organisational executive team would waste its time in such a way. Good traits of leadership are setting the direction and delegation.
- The leaders in Switzerland make decisions collectively. Everyone takes responsibility. Australian Polls, which are driving current political behaviour, would find it hard to report on multiple party leaders’ performance. However, there is also more accountability and more transparency. It becomes harder to make deals behind closed doors when more than one person and more than one party need convincing.
- Shared leadership requires multiple parties to come along in the decision making process. This takes longer as policy need to more broadly balance party beliefs. However, they also are more likely to reflect the broader view of the people. One (willing) sacrifice: the nimbleness and disaster of policy made on the run.
- Lastly, when something is shared you don’t get leadership spills. Leaders’ attention can be focused on the nation for the full term rather than get side tracked with internal wrangling and dysfunction.
Of course all the above suggestions are equally applicable to organisations. So how shared is your leadership at work? Would there be any benefits to this type of leadership in your organisation? I would love to hear your thoughts.