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The Power of Many: The Collective Leadership Approach to Change Management

By January 20, 2019June 4th, 2019Leadership
The Power of Many

With the knowledge that two thirds of organisational change initiatives fail, there is a call for a new kind of leadership: The power of many rather than the power of one (or a select few). This new, cumulative approach to change management harnesses the forces of collective insight, action and commitment.

Read any ‘leading through change’-type article and, nine times out of ten, you’ll find that the content is written for the singular leader, be it the CEO, COO, CFO or CTO. But with the finding that over 70% of organisational transformation efforts fail, isn’t it time we looked at a new model of change leadership; one that calls on the power of the collective?

The case for collective leadership

The Global Leadership Forecast 2018 reports that organisations with high collective leadership display better capability to meet business challenges – up to three times better than organisations with low collective leadership. In the research, it’s worth noting which challenges score highest in terms of collective leader capability:

  • Anticipating and reacting to the nature and speed of change
  • Responding to the competitive environment
  • Understanding and acting on changing customer needs and perspectives

All three of these challenges involve change management. At a time when competitive edge is won by those organisations with strong change capability, the argument for collective leadership becomes an even more compelling one.

But what is it about collective leadership that works so well in managing change?

The power of multiple perspectives

Current research points to a undeniable link between social diversity and financial performance. McKinsey declares that, “Our research confirms that gender, ethnic and cultural diversity, particularly within executive teams, continue to be correlated to financial performance across multiple countries worldwide.”

When decision-making is approached by a diverse collective, issues are explored from multiple perspectives. The benefits are two-fold: With a wider spectrum of views around the table, the group is able to identify more risks, opportunities and alternatives; ones your competition may never even consider.

Collective leadership leads to wider, deeper insight. And insight leads to smarter decisions.

The power of cooperative efficacy

In the 1970s, Stanford University psychologist, Albert Bandura observed a remarkable pattern while studying behavioural dynamics among working groups. He called this pattern “collective efficacy” and defined it as “a group’s shared belief in its conjoint capability to organise and execute courses of action required to produce given levels of attainment.”

Essentially, when a group of individuals share the view that through their combined efforts they can overcome challenges and produce results, groups are more effective.

In building change resilience, collective leadership can bring about the one requirement most needed after strategy: Action. Amplified.

The power of shared responsibility

We’ve seen that with leadership that stems from a single voice comes the risk of insularity and autocracy, but what happens when a leader’s decision turns out to be a poor one? Even if the leader has the integrity to ‘own’ the results and accept the failure, it’s after the fact: The damage to the business is done.

Collective leadership safeguards against this risk. With individuals within the group who are confident to speak up and challenge the status quo, and, with the group’s confidence in its abilities to commit to goals and objectives, responsibility becomes a shared experience. And business is better for it.

So, how do you build a base of strong collective leadership?

Four steps to forging collective leadership

Introduce safety

Psychological safety is a pre-requisite, both for effective collective leadership, and a healthy culture. Leaders and employees alike, need to feel that the environment is open; that all views – including dissenting ones – are not only welcome, but appreciated. It’s vital that debate is considered part of the company’s dialogue.

A safe culture of open and candid communication is the first step to establishing a strong foundation for collective leadership.

Remove barriers

Break down silos by inviting leaders from different units and levels to form a group. The ideal composition involves cross-functionality and diversity. Remember, diversity spans multiple categories: generation, gender, culture and ethnicity, LGBTI, disability… and cognitive diversity.

Promote collaborative communication

There is a plethora of cloud-based team collaboration tools available, enabling real-time communication among leaders and employees. With information sharing happening in one, organised place, collaborative leaders stay connected.

Instead of running down your competition, look to see what they are doing well, and be heard offering praise and approval. That’s how respect is shown, and how others will learn from your example.

Recognise the gains

Look for new practices and behaviours that emerge from collective leadership, and celebrate them. By recognising the positive changes taking place among your people, and within your organisation as a whole, the value of collective leadership manifests even more strongly.

Collective leadership is not a replacement model. It may not even be suitable for all situations. But an organisation without collective leadership is one lacking change capability. Unite today!

Felicity Hinton

Felicity Hinton

Felicity Hinton is the founder and chief strategist at Humanist, a culture-change agency that helps transform people for business success. Previously, she worked in human performance solution design, and advertising. She is a certified change manager (UCT), has a Bachelor’s degree in English (Wits), and has won several awards for her business writing, including a Silver Quill.

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