There is an ever-increasing need for working together in all areas of life as we seek to play our part in transformation rather than ‘tinkering at the edges’ of change. The nature of the challenges, the complexity or ‘wickedness’ of the problem, and the fact that past solutions no longer work all call for a different response and approach. However, this capability often eludes senior teams, even those who clearly respect each other, like each other and at one level work well together.
Being able to shift our leadership mindset from being a stellar leader of my part of the business and truly moving into the collective, group responsibility space is so much harder than it seems. We have to take into account the ‘eons’ of learned behaviour and reinforcement (through reward mechanisms and the like) of hero-style leadership and how this still sits within both the individual and collective unconscious.
Then there are the relationships we have with control, achievement, and possibly also our ego – which can need to feel recognised for its individual value and contribution rather than collective effort which can feel more ‘anonymous’/less visible.
In part, it comes down to what we value – individually and collectively – and how we express that value. For example, if we place particular value on task, action, delivery, and pace as many organisations do today, then we will want to progress in our individual often independent way, perhaps because we feel we have more control.
In part, it comes down to new ways of working and creating the time and space to learn to work differently within the scope of collective leadership.
Learning to work differently means moving beyond lip service to principles such as ‘the whole being greater than the sum of parts’. It also means taking the time to really explore the talents, gifts, strengths, and contributions from each team member and combining these in new ways.
Collective leadership means investing time in real dialogue – listening, reflecting, sharing – so that the diversity of the group can be utilised to move to a new level of insight and creativity. In reality, collective leadership calls on us to introduce a new aspiration, a new level – that of unity. A true belief that by working and moving toward unity and cohesion together we will focus on the things that really matter rather than each individual’s ‘agenda’. In turn, this will help us to eliminate the endless tasks that often add little value to the real value-add topics and actions.
Even where collaboration is high, this isn’t really collective leadership. It’s about more than collaboration. It’s about a true sense that the leadership team really is a single unit – not literally joined at the hip – but a single unit that is committed to a deep sense of equality, interchangeability, mutual trust, mutual accountability, interdependence and shared goals – in other words, a new level of leadership.
It isn’t an easy road, but it is a necessary one and one that will define high performance in the future – setting apart teams and organisations based on a new set of performance criteria including transformational impact, inclusion, empowerment, relevance of effort to name but a few.
The image of the ideal dynamics for the functioning and sustainability of the business system, as a whole and globally, has always been clear to me, but my attempts to take local action in this direction encountered walls of misunderstanding. Most of the current learning methodologies in organizations depend on learning from the past, while today’s real leadership challenges require the exact opposite, namely to let go of the past in order to connect to the possibilities of the emerging future. Thus passing from an ego-system to an eco-system, from the I to the US.
We need to start from a profound cultural change that allows for the creation of a space for co-creation and mutual learning, where all the components of the system can express their individual potential and collaborate effectively in innovation and the collective realization of the future.
Establishing cross-functional networks over time represents a valuable resource for the company in continuously contributing to creating a corporate culture oriented towards innovation and collective responsibility in positively influencing business decisions, even where it does not have full control. This is consequently also reflected on the surrounding environment and, ultimately, on social responsibility.