A distributed leadership model and shared ownership are undeniably the future of leadership. Yet, like anything that hasn’t been done before, it comes with a number of challenges. In my previous post, I looked at what shared ownership is in an attempt to give a broader perspective on the subject. This post aims to address how to distribute ownership as a process of change.
History lessons from the past
I was born in South Africa at the height of the apartheid era. I mostly lived in a protected bubble, unaware of the injustice going on around me. We didn’t learn about apartheid at school. The media didn’t reflect the truth of what was going on on TV. We lived so separately from other races that it was impossible for a small child to comprehend that everyone didn’t have what I and all the other people I knew had.
My relationships with black people also weren’t at all how the world viewed them to be from the outside. Our live-in servant was a respected mother figure to me who I loved as much as my own mother, if not more. She was the one who cared for me, fed me, and loved me on a daily basis. It never felt as if she was being treated unjustly while she was inside our home.
But that was inside my little, safe, bubble, and I was totally unaware of anything happening outside. I was still in school when Mandela was released from prison. I couldn’t possibly understand the magnitude of this event. To me, it was just another day like any other.
It was only years later that I started to question the history we learned at school. When my eyes finally opened to the truth of what happened, for the first time I understood the turning point South Africa reached that significant day Mandela took his first steps to freedom.
Long road to freedom
But that day was only a catalyst for the change to come. 23 Years later, as a country, we’re still trying to find resolution and justice for not only what happened before apartheid, but the reverse injustice that happened and is still happening today.
The transition from apartheid to “Simunye” (“we are one” in Zulu) taught me more about the process of change than any book ever has.
The reason why I’m telling you this story is because organizations everywhere today are at this very same turning point that South Africa was 23 years ago. Organizations are moving from a separate, bureaucratic management style to a distributed and connected leadership model. An environment where the suppressed now suddenly becomes empowered.
But what does this connected leadership model look like?
The future of leadership
When a leader is asked to give up their power after working so hard for it, it will be met with resistance, as South Africa can attest to.
On the other side of the coin, empowering people without going through a process of preparation, sets them up for failure, as South Africa too learned the hard way and is still paying for it today.
For a transition to succeed, it needs to be a voluntary process, not an event. A process with a clearly defined outcome where everyone gains.
The leader of tomorrow, as I see it, is moving away from telling and demanding, toward asking and serving. Leadership and coaching become synonymous, where the leader becomes a trusted mentor asking powerful questions. Someone who guides gently rather than giving the answers or enforcing an implementation. Influence is more important than demanding action.
Personal leadership becomes more important, with more people needing to step into the shoes of the leaders of today and yesterday. That, in turn, opens up the need for more coaches and mentors who are able to develop a leadership mindset, not only teaching the management tools of the past.
The leaders of today are called to become the leadership coaches of tomorrow.
Everyone gains. Everyone levels up in the game of life. There is no loss. There is only growth.
The Shared Ownership Distribution Process
Enough said. Let’s move on to how ownership can be distributed, learning from the same mistakes South Africa made.
All change starts with awareness, and distributing ownership is no different. As a current leader, the first step is to listen to your emotions and become aware of everything that annoys you in your tasks as a leader.
Maybe you dislike always having to know all the answers. Tired of feeling like a babysitter, always reminding people or following up on responsibilities? Maybe you’re overwhelmed with complaints from people wanting different things.
Start becoming aware of these negative emotions and compile a list of responsibilities you are ready to let go of. Also, become aware of what you think other people expect you to let go of but you don’t feel ready to let go. Only let go of items that you are willing to let go of.
2. Voluntary distribution
Once you know what you are ready to let go of, the next step is to distribute it to the team. Dedicate time and space and follow these three rules:
Rule number 1: Make it tangible
Write each responsibility on a sticky note and put it up on a wall for everyone to see, briefly explaining each item. Once everyone understands what the boundaries are and the responsibilities involved, ask the team to put their names on the items they want to get involved in.
By physically writing their name on the board, it’s enforcing the commitment, like signing a contract. By making it tangible both parties commit.
Rule number 2: Translate it into actions
The next step is to translate each item into actions and allocate responsibilities. Some people might know exactly what is needed and is fully ready to take over ownership. Others might need additional help or share the responsibility between two people.
As the leader, ask the most important question any leader can ask: “What do you need?”. Compile a list of actions that will enable everyone to take the next step.
Rule number 3: How are you going to enforce it?
It’s easy to commit to tasks in a meeting. The hard part comes afterward when it needs to be integrated into your daily activities. Without reinforcing the added responsibilities, you risk falling back into old habits.
Make sure to allow time for everyone to think about how to reinforce the new commitment, share it with the team, and ask for help where needed.
3. Ongoing coaching
The third and most important step is to reinforce and support the change. The leader now moves into a coaching role, supporting the employees while they are learning how to handle their new responsibilities.
Schedule one-on-one coaching sessions at least weekly with each person for as long as needed. Go through the details of what is required and how it is currently done in the first session. Use the follow-up sessions to support and grow.
The key is to keep in mind to ask questions, not give advice or check whether it is done right according to you. To empower someone the answer needs to be their own, not someone else’s. Allow people to come to conclusions themselves guided through questions.
The leaders of today need to become leadership coaches, able to develop the leaders of tomorrow. It is through questions that we empower, and only once empowered can we effectively share ownership.
To distribute leadership and share ownership, the transition needs to be a voluntary process where both parties feel they are gaining something. The employees are gaining power and responsibility, while the leaders are gaining freedom and relief from having to carry all the responsibility themselves.
With more than 20 years experience in the software development industry, Kate specializes in helping teams get unstuck, communicate better and ultimately be more productive. She believes in efficiency through fun implementing lean, agile and playful design as tools for process improvement and organizational change. Her goal is to create more happy, healthy and whole workplaces where each person thrives and productivity soars.