How to develop a strong culture of collective leadership

Much is written about how organisations can cultivate leadership, but more often than not it is focused around those who are already in senior leadership positions.

What is now increasingly sought after in modern organisations is the creation of a collective culture of leadership where leaders are developed, valued and supported at all levels.

If we assume the definition of leadership is the ability to create and/or influence outcomes that matter – both in terms of results and relationships – then we can also assume that at some point in time we all have the potential to wear the hat of a leader.

Empowering people to become leaders and influencers has the potential to benefit business in a number of ways. It drives greater commitment, engagement and accountability at all levels, and produces the future top business leaders.

How can organisations develop a strong culture of collective leadership?

Cultivating leadership as a mantra

When collective leadership is aligned with values, purpose and mission, and built into KPIs and performance reviews, it can become a core part of an organisation’s identity. The language of leadership can then become embedded into the everyday conversations that matter.

While language alone won’t drive the change, it does create the impetus for the organisation to take action to recognise and encourage collective leadership.

Recognising potential across the board

All people have the potential to be leaders in different ways. It is important that employees, at all levels, are encouraged to broaden their perspective and develop leadership skills – both individual and collective.

Singling out a select few people who ‘have potential’ ignores the fact that others also have potential and, an often less considered consequence of talent programs, is that they can alienate and impact upon the ability and desire of others to want to become leaders themselves.

Empowering people to have a voice

It is important that those in senior positions are willing to share and delegate responsibility and authority rather than keeping it centralised.

Collective leadership helps foster an environment where people feel their voice and contribution counts, and where they are encouraged to take on more responsibility. This is one way to ensure people feel empowered to step up and have the sense that they are trusted and valued.

Having authority allows others, within reason, to take calculated risks, make mistakes and be accountable for and learn from those mistakes. This is the way all great leaders grow and learn.

Encouraging learning and development

Leadership, both individual and collective, can be developed. Continual learning and development are essential to cultivating leaders and deeply influencing culture.

However, learning and development goes beyond training and skills development, it is about helping people at all levels to understand what internal drivers motivate themand how they show up in the workplace. It is about broadening perspective and cultivating new mindsets.

Deeper development includes exploring how to be more effective from the inside out. Through awareness and ongoing practise we are all able to learn how and why we hold back at times when our contribution is needed the most. Cultivating and encouraging this consciousness is a key component of collective leadership and culture transformations in organisations.

Trusting opinions and decisions

Giving people responsibility and authority goes hand-in-hand with backing and trusting their opinions and decisions, even when they differ from those of senior managers or leaders. Conventional management opt to support leaders who say and do the same things as them and ‘fit’ with the existing culture.

In order to nurture genuine culture change which embraces collective leadership, new approaches and perspectives need to be fostered and welcomed.

In forward-thinking organisations where collective leadership is deeply valued, people recognise and appreciate the benefit of new approaches and perspectives.

Becoming a mentor and guide

Aspiring leaders need mentors and guides to support them on their leadership journey.

One of the least obvious forms of leadership is ‘servant leadership’, in which leaders dedicate themselves to serving the collective good. Included in this is the desire to mentor, guide and teach others and to pass on what they know – humbly guiding others through their own career progression.

Servant leaders provide both feedback and ‘feed forward’ on how the person can prepare for the future.

Developing a culture of leadership rests on accepting that leadership can and will, with encouragement, emerge at all levels of an organisation. By investing in the development of collective leadership, organisations can set up the conditions for forward thinking, creativity, sustainability and shared success.


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