What Is Shared Leadership?

June 9, 2010 — 16 Comments

Leadership is hard work. Good leadership is really hard work. Today’s dynamic, rapidly changing knowledge economy provides an ever-shifting landscape that requires multiple perspectives to navigate well.

Exit the know-it-all, do-it-all leader.

Enter the self-aware, in-touch connector that can share leadership by pulling people, resources and ideas together to get the job done.

What is shared leadership? Marshall Goldsmith describes it this way in an excellent post: “Shared leadership involves maximizing all of the human resources in an organization by empowering individuals and giving them an opportunity to take leadership positions in their areas of expertise. With more complex markets increasing the demands on leadership, the job in many cases is simply too large for one individual. Sharing leadership isn’t easy, but it’s definitely possible, and in many cases, highly successful.”

Goldsmith suggests ways to share leadership and maximize talent. Here are a few:

  • Give power away to the most qualified individuals to strengthen their capabilities.
  • Define the limits of decision-making power.
  • Cultivate a climate in which people feel free to take initiative on assignments.
  • Give qualified people discretion and autonomy over their tasks and resources and encourage them to use these tools.
  • Don’t second guess the decisions of those you have empowered to do so.

As leaders, our job is to constantly move those people our organizations touch from strangers to acquaintances, from acquaintances to friends, and from friends to partners in our common mission. Sharing leadership usually provides the best pathway to true partnership.

How are you learning to share leadership?

16 responses to What Is Shared Leadership?

  1. This is so good. Would also love to hear what you learned about “among” in the NT.

  2. Thank you for this nice reference. I am glad that you found value in my blog!

  3. Read an interesting additional thought about the role of shared leadership in accountability, transparency and authenticity. http://www.bpnews.net/printerfriendly.asp?ID=33012

  4. Ken- remember the Red Hot Chili Peppers song, “Give it Away, Give it Away, Give it Away Now.”? I’m reminded of that when I empower others and as I just read your article. Keep them coming bro’…..

  5. Can you please explain more what you mean by ” Don’t second guess the decisions of those you have empowered to do so.? Thanks, Vincent

  6. Hi @vincent,

    Great question. As leaders (or parents, or project leaders, etc) we want to instill confidence in those we are leading. If my leader constantly second-guesses my decisions, or calls them into question, then my confidence in my own abilities or judgment tends to decrease. If this type of interaction becomes regular, I will take a “wait and see” attitude that promotes passivity. This works against personal initiative and empowered action.


  7. Thanks ken, I understand what you mean now.
    I agree with Marshall suggestions to develop shared leadership, it makes sense based on what I see everyday at work, in teams. I would add few additional suggestions:
    Proximity and frequent social interactions is a good way to develop shared leadership in a group. Shared leadership is a quite sophisticated social process so you will need to socialize frequently to make it happen.
    Consider you teammates as valuable resource at any time even if you didn’t choose them (at any time is the difficult part). To convince your team members that you actually truly think that way, it will take time and you will need to walk the talk.
    Shared leadership is leading to a series of great benefits, one of them which doesn’t come to mind right away is improved stress management.

  8. Google analytics shows that this post is the number one hit from search engines on my blog. I’m curious: What makes Shared Leadership such an interesting topic?

  9. great, learning about that.

  10. I am a Marine doing my thesis on Servant Leadership at the Naval Postgraduate School. As such, I am doing my literature review and I am comparing and contrasting with 7 other leadership models. That is what brought me to your site.

  11. I am interested in shared leadership. It’s somewhat similar to Collective leadership that i am doing research on. However, this definition is still in my country so that there are not many documents about it. Could you please suggest some links for me?

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  2. Guest Post – Ken Cochrum :: The Inevitability of Shared Leadership | Thru A Dirty Window - March 12, 2014

    […] the leader? The one who can offer relevant help, initiate needed change, and model the way ahead. Shared leadership becomes organic in this environment; it is […]

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