When you think of leaders and the concept of leadership, it’s not strange to then wonder who the leaders are leading. Those being led might be termed followers, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are any less worthy or diminished; no less leaders themselves. How is that possible you might wonder.
In some organizations those in positions of leadership occupy the senior positions in the organization; positions which come with the highest salaries, the biggest offices, the most prestigious titles. They may exercise that leadership reserving the right to make all the big decisions; and they may also establish a culture where everyone is acutely aware of their role in the organization. Those in upper management and at the top have all the authority and the right to wield it, while those on the front lines are subjected to it and have few if any opportunities to demonstrate leadership on the job.
Now this kind of organizational structure and the culture that goes with it might suit a certain segment of the population. Kick and claw your way to the top and these are the perks that you’ll find bestowed on yourself when you, ‘arrive’. Then you get to lead with a whip in your hand and lord that authority over those beneath you. Well, that might be a tad over dramatic but you get the point; leadership is confined to those with the loftier job titles such as CEO, President, Chair, etc.
Is it possible however for an organization to encourage leadership principles and grow leaders no matter where they fall on the organization chart? Is that not only possible but desirable? Would this erode the power and authority of the folks at the top and create chaos and confusion if everyone led? And with so many leaders, would there be a drop in productivity if no one saw themselves as a lowly follower?
Of course there are examples in our society where those at the top do in fact encourage those they supervise to grow and develop principles of leadership. These organizations are progressive; believing that by encouraging their staff to experience the responsibility and empowerment of leadership, they do their organization and the people who work within it a great service. Those same people grow as individuals, share their strengths and ideas, and when positions arise that require leadership skills, the people are more prepared having experienced leadership opportunities in their past.
Most organizations are focused on high productivity. Whether it’s making as many products as possible during a shift, reducing the number of defects or accidents which occur over a given period or selling additional services with customers purchases, the goal is higher productivity. In organizations where everyone feels like they have permission to exercise some leadership without fear of reprisal, the workers themselves at all levels feel they can contribute with suggestions to maximize production. Often it is the people doing the work on the front line who know first-hand where improvements can be made. Speaking up and saying, “I’ve got an idea”, is a positive development.
Now sure in some companies that person with an idea might be told to speak privately with a higher-up who could then steal that idea and present it as their own taking credit for it in the process. The person with the original idea may then feel resentment, betrayal, and as a result be dissuaded from venturing forth new ideas for fear of a repeat performance.
In the best of circumstances, the person with the idea gets to share it and those who hear it the opportunity to ponder it, add to it, modify it; maybe even try it. While the idea might be sound, the implementation of the idea itself might require some massaging but when rolled out, the source of the idea is credited with the innovation which improved productivity and the result is others are encouraged to bring forward ideas of their own and voila; shared leadership!
The best leaders are often those in positions of authority who hold the utmost respect from those on their team precisely because they share and encourage leadership from those they supervise. So you might find a team of workers where the chair of the team meetings rotates from week to week. You might find that not only is an employee allowed to go to a conference or training event but they get the opportunity upon returning to the workplace to put some of what they learned into practice.
The thing is that shared leadership doesn’t have to threaten the Supervisor, Manager, Vice-President or CEO. In fact, the opposite is the case. Shared leadership where an entire team is developed both as a unit and as individuals within a unit can promote that same Supervisor as an effective leader to be promoted; their methods to be copied.
Leadership can and does ebb and flow between individuals in many organizations; you take the lead on one project, I take the lead on the next. I learn from you, you learn from me and we both benefit not only when leading but when being led. Being led need not be subjecting ourselves to a minor role. And those in receipt of the products, the services; those consumers and customers – they have some of the best ideas which good leaders take to heart.
Leadership doesn’t always come with a name tag.