What would you understand by the term ‘Distributed Leadership’?

What would you understand by the term ‘Distributed Leadership’?

What would you understand by the term ‘Distributed Leadership’? It’s an odd phrase, is it not, particularly if you believe that leadership is a trait possessed by a person, and not by a group, or even by an organisation for that matter? You may well ask whether it’s even possible that ‘leadership’ can be spread around – divided among many people, like question papers in an examination hall. An exam on leadership, naturally.

If you happen to follow the topic of leadership in the literature, however, you’ll know this particular idea has been around for a few years now. In that time, some forward thinking organisations have begun to think seriously about using the principles and practice of ‘Distributed Leadership’ in order to change their culture, and make them more resilient and responsive to continuous change. One such organisation is Lincolnshire County Council (LCC). This week Debbie Barnes, the CEO, invited myself and Ruchi to facilitate a meeting of her Senior Leadership Team to assist them in their thinking about the implications of putting Distributed Leadership at the heart of their strategy. Lee Sirdifield, Assistant Director – Corporate at LCC, had just completed his SLMDA with LIBS and felt that some of the ground I covered on his course on leadership would benefit the wider Council.

So what is Distributed Leadership (DL)? And why is an organisation like the LCC implementing it? DL proposes that anyone, no matter who they are or their level of seniority, can be a leader. No longer – if it ever was the case – is leadership the preserve of those who are formally given leadership roles by title or position in the hierarchy. When a task or project requires someone to lead it, then anyone can lead it if they’re the right person at the right time to do so. It means that decisions can be made locally by the people who are best placed to make them. It means the organisation can become much more responsive to local needs, particularly client or customers, but also when local response to rapid environment changes makes the organisation much better at dealing with them (rather than waiting for someone more senior to figure out what to do, often too late).  Most of all, it means you don’t wait to be called a leader; you claim the role when it’s right for you to do so.

LCC are working through the cultural, structural and systemic changes that this approach requires, and they’re making great progress. Ruchi and I helped LCC leaders to define DL in their own language and we learned a great deal from their insights and interpretation. We illustrated how theory informs practice with a number of  case study examples, and using the 6 ‘E’s of DL:  Engage, Enable, Enact, Encourage, Evaluate, and Emergence. I’m delighted that LIBS has been asked to contribute, and I’d like to congratulate LCC on their innovative approach that can surely benefit the diverse stakeholders that LCC serves around the county. We look forward to assisting them further on their journey.

Please contact me directly if you’d like to learn more about our work in leadership development.