Imagine leadership in an organization as a stream, where the essence lies not in the hierarchy of the flow, but in the partnership and collaboration at every level. Imagine a stream where the water at upstream, midstream, and downstream flows in a seamless, interconnected manner. In this stream, each segment represents leaders at different junctures of the organization, each with a unique perspective and role. This stream is not about a top-down cascade of decisions, but a dynamic ecosystem where every leader, irrespective of their position, contributes to the overall vision and direction. This does not mean that every leader – up and down the stream – is involved in every conversation or decision. But it does mean that there is bi-directional flow of critical ideas and insights that enable effective decisions and execution.
It is hard to overestimate the power of bi-directional flow of communication and interaction. Ideas and information do not merely trickle down from the top but flow back from the bottom as well, creating a more robust perspectives and knowledge-sets. Leaders throughout the steam have a unique view that is crucial for the organization’s holistic understanding and effective decision-making. The upstream leaders benefit from the insights gathered at the midstream and downstream, ensuring that strategies flow from that more rounded view of the work and the changing nature of the work. Similarly, midstream and downstream leaders, informed by the broader vision and context, can align their actions more effectively. This model, therefore, fosters a sense of partnership where every leader is both a contributor and a beneficiary, ensuring that the organization, much like a nourished stream, flows smoothly towards its goals with the collective wisdom of all its leaders.
Power sharing and shared leadership are essential to the health of a leader-stream. Power sharing distributes responsibility and authority throughout an organization, again allowing for a broader range of perspectives that influence the organization’s course. This structure fosters transparency, increases engagement, and promotes better decision-making by involving a diverse set of ideas and experiences.
Shared leadership goes beyond mere decision-making. It is a dynamic, interactive influence process among individuals in teams that is purposeful, goal-directed and evolves over time. It recognizes that leadership is not the sole purview of a single individual but can emerge from several team members, acknowledging their unique skills and competencies. Shared leadership encourages active participation and values the contributions of all team members, fostering a sense of ownership and commitment to the organization’s goals. The power of shared leadership multiplies when leaders, from different places on the stream, share varying perspectives in order to align those perspectives into decisions, strategies, and behaviors that advance the mission in ingenious and effective ways.
However, shared leadership requires careful calibration. Stakeholders must integrate collective alignment and decision-making while respecting the work that individuals and their teams do. They must acknowledge and validate the urgency of tasks to be completed, ensuring that the collective decision-making process does not hamper progress or lead to unnecessary delays. This delicate equilibrium is vital to maintaining an efficient, productive, and harmonious workplace where shared leadership thrives.