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E-Book Distributed Leadership

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Content Table

Leadership is Distributed in Organizations, isn’t it?

Distributed Leadership. 1

What really happens on the shop floor?. 1

What keeps us back?. 2

All Inclusive or an Adventurous Expedition?. 3

Where do we come from…. 4

But, Now we live in a VUCA world. 7

A lot has happened already, no?. 10

The Heart & Soul of Distributed Leadership 11

How can Distributed Leadership be defined?. 14

Impact of Distributed Leadership?. 17

Distributed Leadership in the Plural 18

Organizational Engagement & Distributed Leadership 27

Not an Ideology but a Strategy 28

Positional & Distributed Leadership:cats & dogs?. 29

A Lonely Planet for your distributed leadership trek. 30

Do not expect a walk in the park. 43


Introduction of the E-book (the English version)

Allow me to play Captain Obvious for a sec. Organizations must become more flexible, respond more quickly to external change, innovate, share knowledge, involve all stakeholders in strategic decision-making and solve problems together. "Command & Control" no longer works. It’s now about trust, professional expertise and connection. Involvement, autonomy, ownership, flat structures and networks, co-creation, learning organization, self-management, job-crafting, coaching, mentoring, communities of practice and intervision... that is the way to a sustainable future for organizations. In a fast-changing business environment, you need to innovate, and that’s the way to do it.

At least, that’s the impression you get if you read management books, watch YouTube videos or attend TEDex meetings. That vision is propagated by many authors, organizational consultants, experts and academics and it often is the focus of leadership training.

What really happens on the shop floor?

But what is left of this ‘truism’ in the workplace, during the nightshift or the daily intervention of the manager? How do decisions in the board really come about, what happens if the production line isn’t running smoothly, or when employees of the interim office work together (or not)?

  • Has strategy really been discussed with all stakeholders and based on thorough research of external economic and social issues & evolutions? Have professionals and operations really contributed? Is it the result of a co-creative process, building support with all stakeholders and enabling everybody to ‘own the strategy’ and really contribute to successful implementation?
  • Do employees remain 'owners' of the problem or is it sucked away to the management team or to some project team with engineers who come up with 'solutions' and then instruct workers what to do?
  • Are employees checking off their checklists of tasks and objectives because they are ordered to do so, or are they living their professional passion, feel part of ‘the club’ and feel enthused as contributor to a ‘common’ cause they are proud of.
  • Do people on the floor feel 'in charge' or are they going to wait for orders? Do they ignore issues and opportunities, thinking ‘that’s not my problem’ or do they pick things up without wondering if that is their job or not?

If you look a bit closer, it seems that most organizations still think and function based on Command & Control principles, even though many organizations use a completely different discourse in their external and internal communication. The separation of thinking and doing, positional leadership, task distribution, well-defined functions and responsibilities, more vertical than transversal thinking and communication, budget allocation and project management, time clocks, individual objectives and bonuses, vertical silos, etc. indicate that 'Command & Control' is the ‘theory in use’[i]… Even though a lot of talking is going on about participation, empowerment, self-management, stakeholder involvement, co-creation, ownership and engagement… that often does not seem to be more than 'espoused theory'. The sharp edges have been softened through consultation processes, listening to employees, employee satisfaction questionnaires, etc ... but when push comes to shove, things are decided FOR employees (and stakeholders) rather than BY them.



[i]      Organizational structures, practices, rules, processes, procedures, etc. ... are artifacts that trigger behavior of all stakeholders in the organization. These artifacts are the visible signs of often unconscious ‘theories’ about what works and what doesn't. That is the ‘theory in use’: the mental model that people use to decide what they do. But when people are asked to explain why they do something, they give an explanation or justification from another theory. We call this the ‘espoused theory’. And it is not uncommon for the artifacts in the organization to reveal that the theory in use is not in line with espoused theory. For example: the discourse in an organization can focus very much on 'inclusion', everyone is important, equal, everyone belongs to the family,…, but if you then look at 'artifacts' and see that there is a restaurant for managers and one for factory workers, that company cars become more luxurious with the level of hierarchy, that every decision or initiative has to go up through three or four management layers before something can happen, etc ... then you have to conclude that hierarchy and command & control are in reality the theory in use and that equivalence and inclusion is only ‘talk’ or espoused theory. And it is only when artifacts and what people say is in sync, that people really believe it and are comfortable to ‘act and behave’ accordingly. It’s not because management says : ‘we welcome upwards feedback and challenge’ that people will start to do it. Only when they see that being franc is not ruining your promotion chances, that motivated pushbacks are listened to and that management acts on the feedback, that they will really believe it and start doing it. When theory in use and espoused theory are not in sync, people become puzzled, suspicious and it erodes people’s confidence and trust in the leadership of the organization. (based on the work of (Argyris & Schön, 1974) (Argyris & Schön, 1978) and on the thinking of (Schein, Organizational Culture and Leadership, 2010), (Schein, 1984) on organizational culture.

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