Webinar Wrap-Up: Breaking Down the Barriers to Shared Leadership

In the last 18 months, many people’s working worlds have been turned upside down. Through challenges and disruptions large and small, one thing has become clear: in work, as in life, we’re much better when we work together.

In fact, demands on leaders have been increasing for decades, as we have expected leaders to develop stronger interpersonal skills while staying just as dedicated to bottom-line growth. So, while these recent months have made it abundantly clear that individuals can’t do it all on their own, taking a shared approach to leadership – one that distributes ownership and responsibility – is probably long overdue.

The path to shared leadership, however, isn’t always smooth. Even organizations that support shared leadership in theory, can run into road blocks when they try to implement it. One factor that may contribute: leaders whose behavior profiles stand in the way of a shared approach.

Recently, MRG’s Maria Brown and David Ringwood decided to dig into our database to learn more about individuals who block shared leadership and gain insights into how to coach these leaders to alter their approach. They presented their findings in the webinar Breaking Down the Barriers to Shared Leadership. Read on for highlights from the webinar, plus Q&A with the experts. (Want to catch the whole broadcast? You can watch it on-demand any time here.)

What does Shared Leadership look like… and what stops it in its tracks?

While there are many tactics to implement a Shared Leadership approach (learn more about them here), at a high level, leaders who welcome Shared Leadership take a three-pronged approach:

  • Invite democratic decision-making and get input from others
  • Assist rather than compete when others are more qualified
  • Provide others the opportunity to do and learn

To understand what gets in the way of Shared Leadership, we should then look at the converse of this approach – what are the behaviors that block shared leadership?

Based on the MRG’s LEA 360™ assessment, Maria and David identified five behavioral characteristics that can block Shared Leadership:

  • High emphasis on making decisions independently and working autonomously (a high Self score on the LEA)
  • High emphasis on being competitive, authoritative, and forceful (high Dominant)
  • Low emphasis on delegating and then giving others freedom to learn without interference (low Delegation)
  • Low emphasis on helping others and putting the team’s interest first (low Cooperation)
  • Low emphasis on seeking opinions from others and adopting their ideas, encouraging democracy (low Consensual)

Recognizing Leaders at Risk

So, how common are these barrier behaviors – and how do we know them when we see them? In a study of more than 8,500 leaders at the department manager level or higher, we found that just over a quarter of leaders possessed at least three barrier behaviors, putting them at risk for blocking shared leadership.

While it seems intuitive that these barrier behaviors would impede shared leadership, further exploration of the data confirms that possessing these behaviors is also associated with less effectiveness. Overall, leaders with at-risk profiles were shown to be less effective in at least 11 competencies, including conflict management, being inclusive, and demonstrating ethical leadership. Moreover, the more barrier behaviors a leader has, the more areas where their effectiveness comes up short.

So how might you see these barriers show up in the leaders you coach? While there’s no substitute for using the data from a leader’s individual profile, for the purposes of this study, we grouped blocked leaders into three categories: Risk-Level Yellow (3 barriers); Risk-Level Orange (4 barriers); and Risk-Level Red (5 barriers). This helped us recognize the most common behavior patterns within these groups – and offer insights on how to coach them.

The Leaders: Risk-Level Yellow

Most common behavior patterns…

  • All about me and what I want: Makes decisions independently, challenges others, less likely to accommodate for others.
  • Commanding from a distance: Makes decisions independently, less likely to accommodate for others, less likely to request and use input from others.

Coach them to…

  • Focus on collective decision making
  • Adopt a more consultative approach
  • Foster reciprocity
  • Think about individual vs. team priorities

The Leaders: Risk-Level Orange

Most common behavior pattern…

  • Competitive Lone Operator: Makes decisions independently, challenges others, less likely to accommodate for others, less likely to request and use input from others.

Coach them to…

  • Do all of the above, plus…
  • Adopt a less forceful approach
  • Focus on bringing people with you (pull, don’t push)

The Leaders: Risk-Level Red

Most common behavior pattern…

  • Makes all the decisions and does all the work: Makes decisions independently, challenges others, less likely to accommodate for others, less likely to request and use input from others, less likely to delegate fully.

Coach them to…

  • Do all of the above, plus…
  • Communicate clear expectations
  • Delegate more actively
  • Supervise thereafter selectively

Removing the Roadblocks to Shared Leadership: Practical Advice for Any Leader

Shared Leadership may seem daunting to implement for any leader, even if they don’t match a high-risk profile. Depending on an organization’s culture and history with Shared Leadership, it can be a challenging task. Keeping a few key things in mind can help create the supporting conditions for Shared Leadership:

Understanding the needs of others is critical to shared leadership success. To be a truly aware leader, it’s essential to avoid going on autopilot. Observe the people you work with. For example, imagine introducing a new project where many colleagues will share responsibility. Consider what motivates your colleagues to succeed on this project. Do they want to hear… The rationale for the project? Clear instructions? Desired outcomes? Assess the needs of those around you, and meet them on their terms.

Cultivate self-awareness. Recognize that no one is truly objective. We all have mindsets and make assumptions that impact how we react to those around us. Learn about your biases and begin to recognize the difference between intentional and automatic behavior.

Keep the confidence. Our research indicates that leaders who struggle with shared leadership are effective at conveying confidence. They can retain their confidence while working to better support shared leadership. (Download this Coaching Crib Sheet on confidence for more details on how to cultivate it.)

Start small and specific. Minor behavior changes can build on each other. Every change takes leaders further down the road to shared leadership.

Read on for answers from Maria Brown and David Ringwood to your questions about Shared Leadership and more.


Questions & Answers

Q: How do you define Shared Leadership?

Our definition of shared leadership for this work was very broad. We did not want to focus on a specific implementation but rather the general idea of distributed ownership and responsibility, where individuals are empowered to step up and take charge when they have something to contribute or learn. Key to this view of shared leadership is that leaders be comfortable sharing command, making themselves available to assist others, taking a democratic approach to decision-making, and delegating when appropriate.

Q: How do you implement Shared Leadership if direct reports on the team don’t feel confident in their ability to take on new responsibilities? How do you overcome that insecurity?

Start small. Focus first on clear communication, helping people to be entirely clear about what is required of them, and leaving room for direct reports to clarify or to ask questions. Assess the readiness and confidence of team members, and delegate accordingly. Having delegated, keep a sufficient eye on progress and be ready to step in to guide and support as and when needed, but avoid micromanagement. Provide constructive and balanced feedback along the way, validating often and helping people to build their confidence in the task. Handle any negative feedback to direct reports diplomatically and discreetly, validating first and then offering constructive suggestions and sharing your experience so that they can learn.

Q: Can you explain the difference between LEA behaviors and LEA effectiveness measures?


About the author

Lucy is the Head of Marketing at MRG. She's a passionate people person who talks with her hands even when she's on the phone. She will not rest until everyone on earth has taken their IDI.

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