Shared leadership is a collaborative approach where leadership responsibilities are distributed between team members. This approach is becoming more popular as entrepreneurial startups continue to improve by using it. In this article, we look at the concept of shared leadership, what it involves, and the challenges it presents, as well as ways to overcome these.
We also focus on the significant impact that shared leadership has on startups and entrepreneurs, highlighting its potential to enhance organizational effectiveness and create innovation in the ever-evolving world of entrepreneurship.
Understanding shared leadership
Shared leadership is gaining recognition fast. Traditional leadership models have often focused on a single leader as the driving force of an organization. However, this earlier approach failed to address the complexities and demands of modern workplaces. As organizations began to realize the limitations of this type of leadership, they started exploring alternative models that encouraged collaboration and the distribution of leadership responsibilities.
Individuals wanting to learn more about leadership and pursue these types of roles can enroll in a variety of programs at reputable institutions, such as the Spalding University Online EdD in Leadership. This program helps prepare students to take on leadership roles and covers aspects such as shared leadership. As many students enrolling in these types of courses are already employed and looking to advance their careers, this remote method of learning suits their needs. Students can continue working in their current role while they study, then progress within their organization, or look for a leadership role elsewhere.
Theories, such as situational leadership, have contributed to shared leadership. Both approaches acknowledge the need for adaptability in management styles. Situational leadership allows team members to share their thoughts and ideas, and responsibilities to be delegated to those who are most qualified to complete them. Shared leadership takes this theory a step further and includes several people with varying experience, skills and qualifications who share the responsibilities of leadership within an organization.
The rise in this transformational model inspires and empowers team members. Today, shared leadership has evolved into a viable and promising approach. Responsibilities and influence are distributed among various team members, rather than just one person. This approach is particularly relevant in many of today’s innovative and complex startups, where entrepreneurs are encouraged to offer something different from the norm. Contemporary organizations are characterized by rapid change and interdependence among team members. These organizations recognize the potential for shared leadership to enhance decision-making, innovation and employee engagement.
This puts the emphasis on teamwork, collective decision-making and cooperation among team members. In addition to utilizing the collective intelligence of the group, it also instills a sense of ownership and unity.
It involves sharing authority and responsibility. Team members take on leadership roles based on their expertise and the specific needs of the organization or project. No one person needs to be responsible for everyone.
This approach acknowledges that different individuals can lead in various aspects of the business, allowing for flexibility and responsiveness to changing circumstances. Effective communication and trust are vital in shared leadership, as team members need to feel confident enough to express their ideas and opinions.
Benefits and challenges of shared leadership
Shared leadership offers several advantages for organizations, including increased innovation, better decision-making, and a more engaged workforce. However, it can have some drawbacks, such as ambiguity in roles and responsibilities, and the need for effective communication and trust-building. However, there are some effective strategies for overcoming any challenges that may arise.
To begin with, some of the advantages of shared leadership include:
Shared leadership enables organizations to tap into the diverse expertise and skills of team members. Each member can contribute their unique knowledge and perspectives, which can lead to finding more creative and effective solutions to complex problems.
With shared leadership, decisions are often made collectively, drawing on a broader range of insights and experiences. This typically results in well-informed and thoughtful decisions, reducing the potential for blind spots or biases that can occur with a single leader.
Sharing responsibilities can help distribute the workload and prevent burnout in a single leader. This is especially crucial in startups where team members often juggle multiple roles. Having to take time off as a result of burnout can jeopardize the business.
Team members who are offered leadership and decision-making roles tend to be more engaged and motivated. They feel a stronger sense of ownership in their work, leading to increased job satisfaction.
Of course, there are potential challenges too, which can include:
In a shared leadership model, defining and understanding roles and responsibilities can be challenging. Team members may not be clear about who is accountable for what, leading to confusion and potential conflicts.
Effective communication is essential in shared leadership. Misunderstandings or a lack of communication can hinder the decision-making process and lead to problems.
Trust is the foundation of shared leadership. Building and maintaining trust among team members is critical, so breaches in trust can be damaging. Trust-building requires time and effort, and many startups may not have the time to prioritize this.
Resistance to change
Traditional hierarchical leadership structures can create resistance to sharing this responsibility, as some team members may be more comfortable with established authority figures, and others may prefer to work in the background and follow instead. Not everyone is comfortable in a leadership role.
Overcoming the challenges
Many entrepreneurs know that challenges are there to be overcome. These are some strategies for overcoming the challenges that can occur when sharing leadership:
Clear role definitions
Any uncertainty over roles and responsibilities can easily be cleared up by establishing and communicating clear role definitions. Each team member should understand their responsibilities and their specific areas of leadership.
Open and honest communication
By encouraging a culture of open and honest communication, those in shared leadership roles can freely share their ideas and concerns. Creating a safe and non-judgmental space will encourage team members to contribute to the improvement of the business.
Training and development
Investing in training and development programs equips each person with the necessary skills for shared leadership, such as conflict resolution and effective communication.
Developing trust-building initiatives, such as team-building activities, can contribute to creating trust. Despite any differences in approach or skills, trust building will ensure that each person has confidence that the others can and will fulfill their roles and responsibilities. This can save time in the long term, as everyone can dedicate their full attention to their own tasks.
Some people just need time to adjust to a leadership role, or to adapt to sharing these responsibilities. If transitioning from traditional to shared leadership, a gradual implementation approach can ease the transition and address resistance over time.
Shared leadership in entrepreneurial startups
Many successful entrepreneurial startups offer something distinct from other organizations, which makes shared leadership an especially relevant approach for them.
Startups often emerge from innovative ideas, so shared leadership encourages a culture of creativity and experimentation. With multiple team members contributing their insights, the business can develop and refine groundbreaking solutions more effectively.
Because startups operate with limited resources, shared leadership can help optimize resource allocation. This approach ensures that each person’s strengths and expertise are utilized efficiently. As a result, startups can grow quickly, ensuring that everyone benefits professionally and financially.
Shared leadership excels in situations where adaptability is needed. Startups are a good example of this because they need to respond quickly to shifts in the market and feedback. With multiple leaders, they can act more decisively, without the limitation of a single leader’s vision or any blind spots that person might have.
Startups tend to involve a high degree of risk. Shared leadership distributes the responsibility for assessing and managing this risk. This allows the burden to be reduced and shared, ensuring that a single leader doesn’t need to be entirely responsible for understanding and implementing everything. In the face of unexpected challenges, this model promotes agile problem-solving. Team members can draw on their diverse skill sets and experiences to find innovative solutions.
Lean team structures
Startups frequently operate with lean teams due to budget constraints and the need to maintain efficiency.
Shared leadership complements lean team structures by ensuring that each team member’s expertise is put to the best use. It prevents talent from being underutilized in situations where it would benefit the business. Traditionally, one-person leadership may face unnecessary problems because other team members’ skills aren’t used as effectively as they could be.
In startups, key team members may also need to temporarily step into leadership roles, such as when the founder is unavailable. Shared leadership structures make this changeover a smoother process. It ensures that the organization can continue without disruption as the person taking over will already have experience in sharing similar responsibilities.
Lean startups can conserve resources by avoiding the excessive costs associated with a top-heavy leadership hierarchy. Shared leadership minimizes the need for numerous managerial positions while still maintaining effective leadership.
Role of founders in startups
Founders play a crucial role in the early stages of a startup, often providing the vision, energy, and entrepreneurial spirit that is needed to drive the organization forward. However, in shared leadership models, founders must adapt their roles to encourage collaboration and distributed leadership.
Founders transition from being sole decision-makers to sharing their roles, ensuring that the team can collectively contribute to the startup’s success. This transition involves a shift from a directive style to a more facilitative and empowering role, where the founder nurtures a culture of collective decision-making and shared responsibility.
Transitioning from solo to shared leadership can be challenging for founders. They may initially struggle to relinquish control and make room for other team members to take on leadership roles. Founders often have a deep personal investment in the startup, and this emotional attachment can make it difficult to hand over significant responsibilities to others. They might worry that shared leadership could lead to a loss of the startup’s original vision or core values. However, by focusing on effective communication, trust-building and understanding, shared leadership can help to achieve the startup’s full potential.
Shared leadership models in startups can take various forms, depending on the organization’s size, goals and culture. Some startups distribute leadership responsibilities evenly across all team members, allowing each person to have a say in decisions. Others might adopt a more task-specific model, where individuals take the lead in areas where they excel. For example, one team member might oversee product development, while another focuses on marketing. Some startups use a rotating leadership approach, where leadership roles shift among team members, promoting a broader understanding of the business and leadership responsibilities.
The impact on organizational effectiveness
Shared leadership in entrepreneurial startups impacts organizational effectiveness and provides several benefits that contribute to the success and sustainability of the business, including:
Shared leadership often leads to more informed and comprehensive decision-making. With multiple leaders contributing their insights and expertise, startups can consider a wider range of options and perspectives. Some of these will be options that a single leader wouldn’t have thought of, resulting in higher-quality decisions.
Leveraging diverse skill sets
Entrepreneurial startups are often made up of team members with diverse backgrounds and skills. Shared leadership allows these unique skill sets to be used effectively, ensuring that the organization can address a broad array of challenges and opportunities. This is particularly useful when dealing with different clients, as one team member may be able to relate to and communicate with some clients better than others.
Quicker decision making
Traditional top-down leadership structures can mean important decisions take longer because approval is needed from a single leader. Shared leadership disperses decision-making authority, reducing delays and enabling faster implementation. Reacting to trends and unprecedented demand for goods or services also improves relevance and productivity.
When facing unexpected obstacles, shared leadership enables agile problem-solving. Each person will have experience in overcoming different challenges and can draw upon this to find innovative and effective solutions. This ensures the startup can overcome challenges quicker than its single-leader competitors.
Team cohesion and morale
Shared leadership encourages a sense of unity and collaboration within the team. Team members feel valued, leading to higher morale and cohesiveness. They are not just employers carrying out a job. They can help to improve the company and ensure greater returns for themselves as well as their colleagues. Often, this results in more effective teamwork.
Resilience in the face of challenges
Startups inevitably face challenges and setbacks. Shared leadership helps distribute the burden of overcoming these challenges, making the organization more resilient and better equipped to handle adversity. For individuals who excel in many aspects of leadership, but struggle with others, this team approach to finding solutions is beneficial.
Assessing organizational readiness
Before transitioning to a shared leadership model, it’s crucial to assess the organization’s readiness and suitability for this approach.
This includes self-assessment and team evaluation. The founder(s) can carry out a thorough self-assessment and encourage team members to do the same. This involves understanding their individual strengths, weaknesses and leadership capabilities. Team evaluations should identify the skills and expertise that can be harnessed for shared leadership.
Also, by investing in leadership development programs tailored to the startup’s needs, team members can address any areas that need improvement. These programs can include workshops, training sessions and coaching them with the necessary skills and knowledge for shared leadership.
When sharing leadership with other team members, it’s important to clearly define the objectives of and expectations for everyone, individually and collectively. This includes outlining the scope of each role, decision-making processes and the level of autonomy each team member will have.
Create a set of guiding principles or a shared leadership charter that outlines the values, norms and behaviors expected within the organization. This document can serve as a reference point for team members and founders in alignment with the shared leadership vision.
Regularly measure and assess the effectiveness of shared leadership within the startup. Use this feedback to identify areas for improvement and adaptation. This approach is an evolving process, and the organization should be willing to adapt as needed.
Develop and track key performance indicators (KPIs) that align with the goals of shared leadership. These KPIs might include measures of employee engagement, decision-making efficiency or innovation. Regularly review and analyze the data to measure the impact that shared leadership has on the organization. You can also establish a system for sharing feedback. This should encourage open and honest communication and will allow for continuous improvement.
Shared leadership brings greater business efficiency
Shared leadership provides entrepreneurial startups with a dynamic framework that enhances the overall effectiveness of the business. A few of the benefits it provides include decision-making, utilizing diverse skill sets and increasing adaptability while empowering and motivating team members.
As the future of entrepreneurship continues to evolve, shared leadership can be the foundation for achieving organizational excellence. By embracing shared leadership and its principles, startups can navigate the challenging terrain of innovation and growth while also ensuring that the combined capabilities of their team benefit everyone involved.