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Leadership shared is leadership multiplied

Take me to your leaders Kate Cooper is head of research, policy and standards at the Institute of Leadership & Management

In 1998, David Bradford and Alan life exercise in having your cake and eating Cohen started to talk about ‘postit: the amount of leadership available grows heroic’ leadership, popularizing what as more individuals contribute to commentators such as Mary Parker Follett its enactment. in her description of ‘reciprocal influence’ Commentators do agree that distributed had been saying decades earlier. Rensis leadership involves shared responsibility Likert, best known for the Likert Scale, for decision-making, a variety of expertise argued in the 1960s for ‘participative is involved and boundaries are fluid. management’, advocating that sharing Indeed, a recent study sponsored by the responsibility for decision-making resulted Construction Industry Training Board in better decisions and more engaged staff. (CITB) for Engage for Success identified The idea of leadership as being created a strong positive correlation between by a group and not being located in a ‘distributed leadership’ and levels single individual is gaining increasing of engagement. popularity, although the myth of the heroic Another significant contributor to leader undoubtedly persists. engagement is the extent to Descriptions of distributed, which boundaries between The idea of individuals are managed dispersed, democratic, shared, collective, collaborative leadership effectively. If leadership is to leadership continue to emerge. as being created be shared successfully, then With so many terms being what occurs at the interface by a group used almost interchangeably, between one individual and and not being arriving at a single definition another – the boundary – is of ‘distributed leadership’ has crucial. Important elements located in a proved elusive. single individual are ignored or overlooked if This is not surprising. expertise falls through the is gaining The ‘great man’ theory of gaps between one person increasing leadership gained prominence and another. because of the relative ease of Other contributors to popularity understanding it as a concept: the study of distributed let us focus on individuals leadership have recognized the – usually male – who seem to achieve great importance of managing expertise. This things. Let’s describe their personalities again resonates with the work of Follett, and we have the perfect template of who, as early as the 1920s, was talking a leader. about the ‘authority of expertise’. Workers Even if we look at more complex who possess valuable skills and specialisms theories of leadership – ones that focus are as important, if not more so, than their on behaviour rather than traits, and the managers. Under distributed leadership, importance of situations and adaptability – they become leaders in their own right. our focus is still the strong spearhead. Distributed leadership, at its essence, is Yet the alternative vision has its flaws. respecting that one individual cannot know Even the term ‘distributed leadership’ is everything. It ensures that contributions problematic – ‘distributed’ probably has its from those that do ‘know’ inform roots in the Latin word ‘to divide’. Division decisions. It manages relationships very evokes notions of a finite amount of carefully, and appreciates that leadership something that is shared out, so in the act involves far more than a single person – of sharing it out, someone gets less. however close he or she may Yet proponents of ‘distributed come to the traditional template for leadership’ argue that it is, rather, a reala leader. Q2 2018 Dialogue

Dialogue Q2 2018  
Dialogue Q2 2018