The dark side of psychological shared leadership
“Can an organization be too divergent?” asked a middle manager of a large bank me in development journey? He was taking up the role of Facilitating Adaptability a lot lately. And the answer seems yes. I’ve seen it in several organizations that promote shared leadership. The top keeps repeating their mantra ‘everybody is leader’, ‘come with new ideas’, ‘it is ok to take new initiatives’ etc. Stated differently, senior management is psychologically empowering their workforce. They push them towards more self-leadership.
After a reluctant phase things go great, a lot of different ideas arise, but at a certain point things go south. Senior management forgot something that makes the differences between a creative and innovative organization, a healthy and a sick organization.
That thing is a shared vision and common core values, and procedures in line with it to converge all these ideas. Stated differently, if there is no undercurrent of shared mental models and practices that helps them to take decisions. As a result the top has created the dragon with seven heads and ten horns. And this leads often to a lot of self-serving behavior at the expense of the collective (Manz et al, 2015).
This is an extremely exhausting situation for those who still care for the collective and want it to progress. The only way for them to get something done is by using a lot of soft relational power, and be the converging factor themselves. They as a person need to hold all the different tensions together, and remain on top of what it is the organizations needs all the time. From the moment they relax, the system pushes the mental models of their stakeholder again in many different directions.
In the long run, those middle managers leave frustrated or burn-out, and the company is left with passive followers and self-serving employees. The exact opposite of what top and the organization needed.
Manz, C.C., Skaggs, B.C., Pearce, C.L. & Wassenaar, C.L. (2015). Serving one another: Are shared and self-leadership the keys to service sustainability? Journal of Organizational Behavior, 36, 607-612.
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