Will Salyards
Leadership Coaching and Mentoring

Will Salyards, PhD Blog

Life, Career, Leadership

Distributed Leadership

Depending on your perspective it may strike you as either hubris or praise to say that your church or organization should be like the Occupy Movement. Well, you're not alone. I felt that way too. That is, until I researched their leadership structure and discovered three key practices that are good medicine for any organization. The first of these is distributed leadership. The notion of leadership being throughout an organization’s various levels of responsibility isn’t new. In its most popular form we know it as hierarchy - the defined roles and responsibilities in which some people report to others. This is replicated, or scaled, until finally the “buck” stops with someone. It’s likely that our familiarity with this form of leadership stems from its being modeled in our families in the parent/child relationship and again as teacher/pupil in our education. But there is another way; one where the task exceeds hierarchy and the job is more important than who does it. It’s called distributed leadership.

At its core, distributed leadership centers on task instead of role. It makes for a concept of leading grounded in three beliefs:

1. How we lead changes based on the context.

2. Leadership is primarily a matter of influence within relationships

3. How we organize that influence and organizational processes are more important than any single person.

What makes all this possible, even desirable, is the belief that the characteristics of a leader don't reside in only in those called "leaders" but are in others as well, others who are willing and able to engage the task at hand as competently as are we. As leader, our role becomes to support the engagement of more people in decisions, enable collaboration, and encourage new practices. It means the traditional leader role shifts from being the font of knowledge to its cultivation in others.

To view distributed leadership correctly, and I think all forms of leadership, think about leadership as the use of influence within a social system. It means your organization, whether comprised of dozens or thousands, is a unique society. Within it are the spoken and unspoken demands about how you should lead and the very real desire that you are real and in touch with what people value.

It means that people follow you because of your perceived insight, ability, or energy and not because you’re thought of as better than them. In other words, even if not everyone knows you, still, everyone believes that at various levels you’re like them.

Understanding a leader's role in this way is vital to bringing others into the process. When we don’t, the natural helpfulness of capable people will be misconstrued and their motive questioned. Usually this is the result of greater emphasis on our role than our service and reluctance to work closely with others. Innovation, the life-blood of any organization, is the long-term casualty when leaders only delegate instead of collaborate.

Distributed leadership becomes a social necessity and not mere fad when its appreciated that for people to become participants in our endeavors they must have some sense that they can wield influence too. In fact, the degree to which members feel or believe that their influence is felt upward in the organization determines the responsiveness they will give to our leadership. This isn't only a matter of communication - getting the word to everyone about our next initiative - but the willful invitation for others to participate in the formation of those initiatives.

When we do several good things happen: People are motivated, interactions among members are less strained as they too now believe they have influence, people talk with each other to accomplish objectives, and the legitimacy of our leadership is strengthened. Want to begin? Let’s talk about the ways I can help you and your team grow in your leadership. Just click here!