Notions as shared leadership spread easily in organizations. They have a seductive power. “Everybody a leader” or “we all lead together”: who could oppose to such an idea? An employee resisting that promise of empowerment, emancipation, voice is easily seen as negative or lacking sense of responsibility.
Leadership development suffers from the same kind of political correctness. We learn people to influence, to become authentic, to make a difference, to do the right thing: who could oppose to such an agenda? The why of leadership development is never in doubt: more leadership is good for you!
Wrong. On the contrary. Developing or discussing leadership without addressing issues of power can be harmful. It can even be seen as a rhetorical device of leaders to suppress and make employees work harder (Lumby, 2013). “Shared leadership” as the perfect cover-up for centralized power and it’s abuse in today’s organizations.
This risk could partially explain why so much time and money is invested in development of leadership without depleting the need for it. Developing leadership without discussing power issues doesn’t change the reality of e.g. power abuse, lack of decision transparancy, mechanisms of exclusion and suppression, unfairness and lack of voice.
This is sad because the need for shared leadership comes from the need to tackle the downsides of formalized hierarchies, as e.g. poor decision making, motivation or creativity. So let’s bring in the elephant of power in the leadership class room. Let us at least be clear upfront if leadership development should or should not disturb the existing power balance in an organization.