There has been very many interesting conversations that the earlier post on shared leadership elicited. Here is my take on the topic. Shared leadership in my humble opinion is not sharing of the position. It is not making smaller centers of power that operate in parallel in an organization.
To me Leadership means two things – authority and responsibility. Shared leadership then amounts to how these two variables are split amongst the leaders. Not understanding this is one of the reasons why shared leadership almost never works. The focus in shared leadership is about splitting the power, the position, culling out kingdoms, establishing governance etc. Failure to understand that the only aspect that can be shared are the activities and work – and not really the power and position, has led to a lot of chaos and confusion.
In the current context the most basic mistake in sharing leadership role is the approach to splitting authority and responsibility among two people. It defeats the purpose of sharing and creates split. It splits the role, it splits the function and eventually it splits the company or the institution. A better way to achieve shared leadership is to share authority and responsibility equally with only boundary conditions and exception handling routines. Have one leadership position but create pockets of defined responsibilities. This when done can result in more cohesive functioning, increased band width and growth for the individuals and as well as the enterprise. In my humble opinion, shared leadership is all about allowing people to take charge of responsibilities. It is not creation of parallel power structures or sharing of the leadership position.
The best form of shared leadership is for people to volunteer to share responsibility. When responsibility is fully understood and shouldered, authority literally becomes meaningless, because it is automatic. When you take up responsibility for something you make it happen – you don’t wait for permission to make it happen. If you wait for permission to be granted or bestowed then what you are seeking to share is only authority and not responsibility. This will result in poor leadership anyways. In essence to lead in an area, one needs only responsibility and not really authority. Because to be a leader you need to look forward and lead, not look backwards to see if there are followers. That is the true mark of a leader. And the world today needs a lot more of these!