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Autumn Road

The 5 Minute Leader

  • Writer's pictureCarl Blanz

Shared Leadership

One simple way to understand the workings of shared leadership is this:

Responsibility + Authority = Power

The type of power I’m referring to is the power of each person in your organization to be their full and authentic selves—challenging themselves because it feels satisfying. In many organizations, this kind of power is not being accessed. Sharing leadership is one way to access it.

In their book Humanocracy, Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini introduce readers to a Dutch company called Buurtzorg, which translates to “Neighborhood Care.”

Buurtzorg is an in-home healthcare business. They have transformed their organization in every measurable area, from client and employee satisfaction to overhead cost reductions (of 60%!), to hospital admissions; they seem to not only exceed, but to completely astound the market with their results. One result is an estimation by the consulting firm KPMG: if the entire Dutch healthcare system were to adopt Buurtzorg’s model, the country would save 40% on their national healthcare costs.

A quote from the founder of Buurtzorg:

“The community-based nurse has a central role. After all, they know how to best support specific circumstances for the client.”

What Buurtzorg has done is demonstrate and validate the equation Responsibility + Authority = Power. There are 850 self-directed teams with twelve people per team, and they have been given the responsibility of: growing their business, improving lives and making a profit–and, oh yeah, authority to make big decisions. The skeleton crew at the home office handles the mundane tasks, most of which are accounting related.

On another level, they have validated the idea that each of us has more capacity than just showing up and performing the functions of our jobs. We have the ability to lead, create, problem-solve and develop… these abilities = personal power.

It is proven over and over that when given the right conditions, the we always outperforms the individual.

Manager on Duty

In a lot of businesses, there is a position called MOD, Manager on Duty. As an MOD in the hotel business, you get some fascinating calls and problems to help solve, and you also get some incredibly boring problems to solve over and over again.

One of the problems I encountered as the MOD in a hotel was frequent calls from the front desk to approve discounts on a guest’s bill.

After a few of these calls, it was clear to me that the front desk agents knew way more about the situation than I did, and they hated calling me even more than I hated responding. It looked like an opportunity to do something radical as leaders, so we did.

We made a new rule that there was no longer any financial limitation on the front desk agents’ ability to write off disputes on the guest bill. From now on, they did not have to call the MOD, and whatever decision they made, the MOD would support it. The only caveat was that they would need to learn from each other, so they implemented a system for reviewing disputed charges and purchases to enhance the guest experience and shared the learning.

Write-offs from disputed charges at the front desk went down. Customer satisfaction went up – who wouldn’t love that? No management in the world could ensure that front desk agents cared as much as managers about saving the hotels money. It was their authority that gave meaning to the responsibility.

What really excited me was the creativity with which the desk agents and bellmen turned around negative impressions and made the guest feel cared for, and it spread.

The changing culture could be heard in the conversations in the breakroom, smoking lounge, parking lot, shift change meetings, leadership meetings, comment cards, employee satisfaction surveys and beyond.

Of course the leadership team loved the results, but our conversations changed too. We began to shift from conversations about problems, numbers, goals and accountability… to conversations about creativity, and how could we support the line managers and employees in creating something unexpected for our guests. Interestingly, a lot of those conversations sounded like “How can we get out of their way?”

I believe that is the biggest reason to give shared leadership a try (if you haven’t already.) To put it more clearly, when line-level employees claim their own personal power and connect their authority with their responsibility, they pull leadership into a different role, one of facilitating and supporting.

There is a lot more to say about this, but for now one final thought. The most challenging part of sharing power is surrendering. Surrendering our close involvement in their business. Start small and measure with your own experience.

Here’s an exercise:

Pick a department or one area of your business.

Ask the employees for three things that they are not doing now, that would positively impact the organization via guest experience, profits or revenues (there should be some measurable metric.)

Take what they say, and with them prioritize into three categories:

  1. No-brainer, low-hanging fruit, we can do this quickly and easily.

  2. Great idea, but we can’t see from here how to implement it.

  3. Major concerns with this idea, i.e. it might not be in line with the mission or values of the company, or it involves an unrealistic amount of capital.

Then, implement the #1 no-brainer ideas as soon as possible and celebrate! Give praise and sincere thanks for the great ideas, ask for more of them.

Invite the person(s) with the #2 ideas to be part of an ongoing dialogue on what it would take to implement this change. Then hold it as a real possibility. This is where a little surrender on your part might come in handy and where you’ll see their creativity.

Respond to #3 ideas with your insights about why it’s impractical and just like #2, invite an ongoing dialogue about how to make this idea happen.

Here’s a bonus experiment for your leadership team:

Learning how to share leadership usually requires learning and development in two specific areas.

  1. Those with authority – learning how to let go of it.

  2. Those who want more authority – learning how to hold it with an equal amount of responsibility.

Start small. Read this with your team and see if you can identify areas where you can consciously use the two avenues of learning above to directly impact the results that your organization cares about.

If we can support you in sharing more leadership, give us a call.

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