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Towards shared leadership: from old to new leadership

The switch from hierarchy to more autonomous teams requires a certain kind of leadership from organizations and companies. And that is precisely where it often goes wrong. In their latest book, Koen Marichal and Karen Wouters (both Antwerp Management School) show the way from old to shared leadership.
by Antwerp Managment School | January 8, 2019
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Leadership is the elephant in the room of organizations that want to give more autonomy to teams and reduce their hierarchy in order to do so. Leaders at the top show too little courage to change and are not at the forefront of change. Managers are left to their own devices and do not find their place in the new organization. As a result, the expected returns fail to materialize. Teams get bogged down in deliberation and exasperation. Employees fall back on their former managers. Uncertainty puts pressure on the top to take directive action.

In short, breaking free from the yoke of hierarchy causes withdrawal symptoms that should not be underestimated.

Collaborating with teams

The switch from hierarchy to more autonomous teams and shared leadership is like a switch from palace to tent camp. The top-heavy hierarchy is pushed aside and multifunctional teams with more autonomy take the lead. They become responsible and also accountable for an integrated set of tasks and associated outputs. More cooperation and responsibility also increase the quality of work. Employee involvement increases and makes them more productive. The palace with many corridors, separate rooms and floors becomes an outdoor tent camp, with lighter and/or temporary structures.

"The switch from hierarchy to more autonomous teams and shared leadership is like a switch from palace to tent camp."

This switch naturally requires a certain kind of leadership. Strong, autonomous teams do not tolerate hierarchical games or bureaucratic rule-making. They need collaborative leaders who work with teams instead of standing above them. Leaders who start from vision, values and trust rather than power and control. Leaders who take on and release temporary, flexible roles in groups and projects.

It is precisely this leadership that is often lacking. Leaders do not easily let go of their power or status and do not automatically join the movement toward more autonomous teams. The risk of missing leadership is that the new organization does not fulfill its promises.

Starting with 'Shared Leadership'

In their book "Toward Shared Leadership," Karen Wouters and Koen Marichal show organizations the way forward. Based on four years of research, the authors discuss four uncomfortable leadership challenges and how to address them. The combination of testimonials, scientific insights and proven interventions puts the elephant of hierarchical leadership in organizations outside the room. They also bring this knowledge to the master class Start to Lead which focuses on new thinking around leadership.

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Antwerp Managment School

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