I’ve been reading with great interest about collective leadership. In fact, Deloitte‘s biggest global project at this time is in studying effective collaborations–the idea that collaborative efforts and collective leadership are more effective than a ‘command-and-control’ approach.
Collective leadership is rapidly becoming the buzz as the new direction in leadership, and I think it’s resurgence in popularity has a definite generational link.
A couple years ago I was meeting with some members of the American Bar Association shortly after I had given a speech at an ABA annual conference. One attorney in particular was outraged. He shared with me that he had been grooming a young attorney in his firm to become partner. Then, on the day he extended the partnership invitation to this high-potential prospect, the prospect promptly turned it down.
‘What is wrong with this next generation?!’, the attorney asked me. I asked him if he had asked the prospect if he wanted to be partner. Indeed he had not, to which he added, ‘Who doesn’t want to be partner?’.
Herein lies the rub. Different generations define leadership in different ways.
For years our society has associated leadership with decision-making, privilege, opportunity, and prestige that is achieved by only a select few. There have been leaders and there have been followers.
Now we have generations coming to the table challenging this concept. They see leadership as a direct path to working longer hours, doing less meaningful work, feeling lonely and stressed, and having less personal time. For many, that’s a path they aren’t willing to take. They don’t want to be the leader and they don’t necessarily want to follow either.
A large number of organizations’ failures are linked to the failure of its leaders. Younger generations have been close observers of many of these failures, such as Enron and Worldcom. We are very distrusting of hierarchy and authority because we’ve watched the nation’s business leaders lie and fail to deliver on their promises.
So not only do we define leadership differently, we actually feel uneasy with the traditional definition and approach to leadership.
In collective leadership, the leader is celebrated for creating the conditions for others to succeed. It’s not about telling people what to do–it’s about motivating them and working with them as a team.
It’s not about a select few people making all the decisions and doing all the work, it’s about setting up an inspiring, team-oriented environment where people are clear and capable to want to work for themselves.
This is the kind of leadership that Generations X and Y can really get behind.
Actually, the concept of collaborative leadership isn’t that new. Lao Tzu, the Chinese philosopher, wrote about collaborative leadership 3,000 years ago stating: “Of our best leaders, their people say we do it ourselves”.
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