The Leadership Blueprint: Part 1
3 Leadership Theories That Will Transform Your Leadership Practices
Read Time : 5 minutes
Without a single iota of doubt, innovative and forward-thinking leadership holds the potential to skyrocket organisational outcomes.
The implementation of effective leadership facilitates improved systems, processes and practices, improved organisational longevity and most importantly improved staff capacity and morale. As with anything that promises extraordinary results, it quickly becomes the domain of charlatans, swindlers and scoundrels who promise the hints, hacks and how-dos of leadership. For a one-time payment, they will give you the tools to 'influence' people to follow your agenda resulting in better personal performance outcomes for you.
Contrary to this approach, real leaders do not manipulate behaviour but inspire action in an arena where all parties progress, personally and professionally, towards goals which neatly align with the vision and agenda of the organisation.
The Importance of Leadership
Due to the increased complexity in business systems, and especially in large organisations, 'it becomes probable, that no one individual has all the knowledge, skills and abilities that would enable him/ her to accomplish all of the business functions, without distributing them among a team' (Murphy 2009).
Understanding that the 'Heroic Head/ CEO era' (Stoll 2009) is well and truly gone, the greatest leaders appreciate that 'the motivation of others towards a desired or an agreed outcome' is of paramount importance and that their job, as a leader, 'lies between desired and agreed' (McGuinness 2017). Enlightened leaders communicate clearly the agreed organisational 'vision, values and ethos' (Krishna 2020), thus creating an environment conducive to 'deeply informed decision making'. This allows for the smooth transition towards 'a future with a sustainable balance between short- and long-term goals' (OECD 2004) and a climate 'where creativity, capacity building and innovation are paramount' (Buck 2017).
Having had the privilege to work with some prolific leaders, in a myriad of contexts ranging from the sporting arena to the educational sphere and the business domain to the financial sector, I quickly recognised, unbeknownst to them, that although they did not necessarily share similar personalities or traits, they all implemented the same three leadership styles; they were distributive, transformative and invitational.
This article, within this 3 part series, will focus on distributive leadership with subsequent articles focusing on transformative and invitational leadership.
With the demands of modern business too great for any one person, the innovative leader understands the necessity to distribute responsibility to multiple leaders, the requirement for formal and informal leaderships positions in order to create system wide capacity and to empower all stakeholders, and importance of these steps in creating a culture of interdependency rather than dependency; Consequentially, distributive leadership must be:
Extended - The practice of leadership must be shared and realised within extended grouping and networks
Enhanced - Change and development are enhanced when employees have opportunities to collaborate and to actively engage in change and innovation
Emerging - Leadership roles, formal and informal, emerge to meet the needs of the company
Restricted - Leadership roles must be restricted to those which are required in order to solve problems or take actions
The power of distributive leadership cannot be underestimated; it enhances employee self-efficacy and motivation, empowers staff, inspires commitment to the organisation, improves organisational and employee capacity and ultimately bolsters organisational longevity and succession planning.
Distribution vs Delegation
'Leaders must ensure that distributed leadership is authentic and not simply delegation by another name.' (Mayrowetz 2008)
Distributive leadership aims to develop the skills, capabilities and attributes of employees by introducing them to new organisational systems, practices and procedures for no other reason than allowing for professional and personal development. Conversely, delegation is the disingenuous act of offloading responsibilities in the pursuit of decreased personal workload. Along with disempowering staff, decreasing team trust and increasing cynicism, delegation under the guise of distribution creates tension between formal and informal leadership and ultimately undermines organisational longevity and increases high performing staff turnover.
If your plan is to use 'distributive leadership' as a capricious strategy in the pursuit of increased workload, or worse yet as an initiative to further progress your position on the corporate ladder, the personal and organisational consequences will be disastrous.
Creating the conditions where 'professional knowledge and skills are enhanced, where effective distributive leadership exists, at all levels, and where the entire organisation is working independently in the collective pursuit of better outcomes is the challenge that faces the modern leader.' (Harris 2013)
These leaders structure the organisation so that 'teams are built both laterally and vertically and premised upon shared leadership and reciprocal accountability' (Hargreaves 2009). They understand that teams who 'are "tight" on values, purpose and direction but "loose" in distributing leadership activity' (Hodges 2000) and 'who effectively combine clear direction with widespread involvement' (Harris 2001) hold the key to fulfilling the aspirations of trust and ultimate professionalism while also ensuring team commitment. They promote a culture 'where exceptional organisational performance is not a random event; instead, exceptional performance is achieved through careful planning, design and discipline' (Mitchell 2010)
The data are clear; authentic use of distributive leadership has the potential to create exponential individual, team and organisational growth, while inauthentic use could well put your organisation in peril.
Buck, A. 2017, Leadership Matters - How Leaders at All Levels Can Create Great Schools, John Catt Educational Ltd, Woodbridge.
Harris, A. 2013, Distributed Leadership Matters: Potential, Practicalities and Possibilities, Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks.
Harris, A. 2013, "Distributed Leadership: Friend or Foe?", Educational Management Administration and Leadership, vol. 41, no. 5, pp. 545-554.
Harris, A. & Chapman, C. 2001, Leadership in schools in challenging contexts, British Educational Research Association, Lancaster.
Hodges, A. 2000, Web of support for personalised, academic foundation, American Educational Research Association, New Orleans.
McGuinness, S.J. 2017, Building Teams and Managing Resources, Lecture edn, University of Ulster, Jordanstown.
Mitchell, C. & Learmond, D. 2010, Go Where There Be Dragons: Leadership Essentials for 2020 and Beyond, The Conference Board Inc., London.
Murphy, J. 2005, Connecting Teacher Leadership and School Improvement, Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks, California.
Murphy, J., Smylie, M. & Seashore, K. 2009, "The role of the principal in fostering the development of distributed leadership", School Leadership and Management, pp. 23-29.
OECD 2004, International Schooling for Tomorrow Forum: Background OECD Papers: ICT in the Schooling Scenarios, OECD Publishing, Paris.
OECD 2004, OECD Schooling for Tomorrow Series: The Starterpack: Futures Thinking in Action, OECD Publishing, Paris.