How is alternative leadership developing

Plural tour - an alternative to the one-man show

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Does leadership in a team or elsewhere always have to be linked to just one person? Which forms are alternatively designed, practiced and why? Counter-drafts to the well-known “one-man-show” are on the table and are already in use, also in keeping with the New Work context. Leadership Insiders provides a sorted overview and assesses the situation.

Representation of the leader

Not just handing the management task over to one person, but rather distributing it over several shoulders, is not in itself a completely new idea. The best known here is the Representationwhich, as the name suggests, does not represent a new addition to a management position in terms of content, nor does it create its own management position. Rather, in the event of the absence or prevention of the manager in charge, another person is formally or informally authorized to act in accordance with the stipulations of the “office holder”, or at least to act in their interests. When making a decision, there is usually no thought of real independence, even if exceptions are sometimes unavoidable depending on the situation. But the representation allows, especially the leadershipload to distribute. But it is no plural leadership yethow she is currently taking up the discussion. It is still a form of singular leadership that is only a little bit duplicated and last but not least for emergencies.

Job sharing in management positions

It has also become known that a management position is divided between two people, who then share them equally (or possibly unequal) in Part time exercise. But here, too, there is still a single management position. The people who share this position have the task of exercising their leadership in accordance with a common objective as far as possible. Ideally, no difference (skills, emotions, motivation, performance contributions) between these people is found in the external perception, which means that perfect interchangeability, or at least seamless combinability, is the actual model. From one plural leadership is therefore not to be spoken here either.

Dual leadership

This is, so to speak, the simplest case of plural leadership. We encounter it in two forms: as formal dual leadership and as informal dual leadership.

Let's start with the latter. From one informal dual leadership always has to be spoken when in a hierarchically structured work group that has a formal management position, another person takes on management tasks based on their own decision or grows into them over time. The classic here is the division between task-oriented and socio-emotional leadership. The reason for this is, as studies show, that task-oriented leadership often does not keep an eye on the social in the group or even disrupts the social structure. This creates a leadership vacuum, which can then be filled by a normal group member. This is referred to in the literature as a "popularity guide", which performs essential services for the climate in the group and at the same time helps to ensure the group's problem-solving ability. Let us remember, for example, the last soccer World Cup, where a certain Lukas Podolski hardly helped the team playfully, but according to media reports he ensured a productive looseness in the team structure in the background, which sharpened the concentration for the decisive games.

The formal dual leadership is given if, instead of one, two management positions at the same hierarchical level are intended to lead a group. Let us remember the dual leadership at Deutsche Bank or the dual leadership of a party. Formally, the designation of a single management position would be sufficient, as is regularly the case in comparable situations. However, situational requirements can suggest the said solution out of rational considerations (e.g. because of the scope or required competencies), or it is an expression of a question of power that has not been clarified to one side. Such a solution can be stipulated from the outset or arise spontaneously when required. It can also, for a practical reason, be the redemption of the promise of gender equality.

A leadership plural beyond the previous standards

The two forms described represent the simplest form of plural leadership. However, the idea of ​​a leadership plural is given an additional boost by developments that have already occurred or are becoming increasingly apparent in organizations. Just remember our previous remarks on New Work, the loosening up or alternatives to the traditional hierarchy and the search for more responsibility with many (still) non-executives.

These leadership plurals, which primarily manifest themselves in evolutionary and polycentric organizational forms, stand for the departure from the classic hierarchical idea that there should always be only one single power center at the top of the organization from which all decision-making power originates (so-called monistic authority structure). This becomes particularly vivid when the organizational lead figure is networks rather than silos.

As the outstanding leadership researcher Edwin Hollander (2009, p. 22) explains, the fundamental willingness to distribute leadership tasks more broadly, or, as we will see, to share them collectively, not only as a counterpoint, but almost as a paradigm shift between "old" and “new” leadership. The decisive factor in letting leadership emanate more from many centers is the impression that vertical leadership, like a leader-centered understanding, has outlived itself as an all-purpose solution. The three main reasons for this are:

  • Overwhelming (cognitive, emotional, motivational) in view of complex work and decision-making structures, accompanied by restrictive time regimes and the compulsory reduction in presence
  • Management-related development of surplus resources ("Leadership varnish“)
  • Participation wishes broader groups of people.

Through plural leadership, a reduction in stress is achieved for the manager, which, according to the expectation, is associated with less stress and increased well-being. A diversity of people also means better adaptability to changing environments (Weibler / Deeg 2018). And last but not least, more participation also accommodates modern, democratic basic ideas.

However, it can also be seen that the simultaneous action of a large number of different entities is nothing less than a cultural break in many organizations. Richard Bolden (2011) from the Center for Leadership Studies at the University of Exeter Business School, UK, points out that cultural conditioning on monocentric leadership structures has existed for almost thousands of years and is currently mirrored by practically all organizations. In the western world, this goes hand in hand with a strong fixation on individuals, to whom the success or failure of entire social structures is often exclusively ascribed (cf. my remarks on Romanticizationof leadership).

Distributed leadership

The distributed or dispersed leadership is a more interesting form of plural leadership compared to the previous one. Here, so to speak, “partial leadership” is assigned or made possible within a team, which represents a previously jointly defined area of ​​responsibility and to which certain people are assigned or are allowed to assign themselves. The overall coordination in the team takes place according to collective rules. Or a person in partial leadership takes over the overall responsibility temporarily in personal union. Some of these solutions go as far as the official election of those people who apply for a management share. We are dealing with self-organizing teams that are not necessarily leaderless and certainly not leaderless, but “only” deviate from the traditional a priori fixed management structures.

Collective leadership

In contrast to distributed leadership, where individual leaders can still be clearly identified, collective leadership describes Shared leadership) a form of leadership in which there is no longer any ex ante differentiation between leaders and those who are led. The prerequisite is that a formally ascribed management position is dispensed with, and the team (more generally: the community of people connected through joint work) creates a way of dealing with one another through shared experiences in which the "we" instead of the "I" think and Acting as a matter of course shapes. Activities are perceived as a collective matter and the necessary processes are learned in the course of cooperation. This is expressed through the work practice as well as through the language that is used.

This form of leadership is by no means just a purely conceptual construction, but has already been shown several times in empirical studies under certain situation conditions. A research project at my chair in a very earlier study in this field in collaborative networks revealed jointly shared influencing processes of the type described. There was a clear shift in attention away from the individual towards interactions and relationships between individuals (Weibler / Rohn-Endres 2010). Instead of a single claim to leadership based on a superior person, an accepted and functional understanding of leadership develops through daily practice. It is clear that lateral relationships be able to prepare the breeding ground for such forms of leadership in particular between people. In the case of vertical leadership as an entry option, the superior position's claim to a single decision would of course have to be given up. If so, it would have the task of moderating such a process. The goal would be to gradually make yourself superfluous as a prominent person with a singular claim to leadership.

Effects of plural leadership

It would be completely wrong to assume that plural leadership is always possible and automatically generates better results for an organization. However, under certain conditions, advantages are not only plausible, but are also shown by empirical studies. This shows that team functionality is increasing, i.e. after struggling to find the right path, there is a greater consensus, fewer conflicts, greater trust within the group and more stable cohesion. Meta-studies also show improvements in performance (see D’Innocenzo / Mathieu / Kukenberger 2016). However, the scatter in the results is high. Apart from methodological problems, this means above all that the situation conditions have to fit in the broadest sense. This also includes a number of people who would like to take on managerial responsibility at all.

The findings tend to indicate that these plural forms then develop their strengths when it comes to leadership that is based on the so-called "New genre leadership“Is well described. This refers to leadership directions that - like transformational or empowering leadership - specifically address change, development and learning. In contrast, a plural leadership of this nature with a view to team effectiveness would not be advantageous if only the classic leadership functions were served together (e.g. directive, task-oriented leadership). It should be emphasized that the effect on team performance preferably unfolds through team processes. Afterwards, attitudes towards the team and behavior in the team are shaped in a way that is favorable for results.

Plural leadership: leadership avant-garde, but nothing for everyone and everything

The documented strengths of a pluralistic leadership should not lead to a “the more the better” thesis. And the enlightened traditional form is of course by no means obsolete (cf. Chreim 2015). Here, too, it always depends on the situation and the implementation so that plural forms of leadership are helpful and do not end in disasters.

Furthermore, there is a considerable need for research in the determination of effects depending on the type and extent of plural leadership. At the moment, unfortunately, almost everything is included in the discussion that differs from formal hierarchical (vertical) leadership: team members who slip into the formal leadership role informally (leading up). People who lead one or more team members laterally (leading across). Then people who share leading jointly roles. And of course the team that leads together without any discernible differentiation (leading collectively).

Overall, it is clear that it is not very effective, for example in scheduled and / or specialized (production-oriented) task contexts, if the entire team is available for management tasks. Here, plural leadership configurations would normally mean a waste of resources. Above I have outlined the conditions under which more leadership pays off.

Under no circumstances should we lose sight of the fact that teams and organizations alike in a much larger number of talented "Followers“Who are committed to the committed exercise of their tasks and who think outside the box with equal leadership. In conclusion, this draws our attention to the fact that although plural leadership is initially gaining ground for functional reasons alone, its future potential in the broad development of a Leadership should be seen in the organization. That makes it an attractive way of doing that Personnel development with the Organizational development to interlock.