Simiyu relished his new role as operations manager of a mombasa-based clearing and forwarding company.
he valued the prestige, the pay, and the power. Not wanting to disap- point his cEO, Simiyu got straight to work in improving the efficiency of his sprawling department.
he spent several nights alone working late in the office develop- ing new procedures, policies, and structures to achieve his vision. he captured his new ideas in easy-to- read diagrams and charts. Pleased with his enhancements, Simiyu called a meeting of all the thirty staff in his department. Utilising PowerPoint presentations and paper handouts, he carefully and methodi- cally delineated the new workings of the department. Following his com- ments, Simiyu proceeded to answer a few employee functional questions before releasing the staff back to their regular duties. he felt confi- dently assured that departmental performance would increase com- mensurate with his changes coming into effect.
Now contrast Simiyu with mwikali. mwikali ran the design department in a Nairobi fashion firm. She cherished creativity and innovation. She met regularly with her staff in “all hands” meetings where everyone could speak their minds. mwikali then proceeded to take all the information back to her office and pondered departmental next steps. regardless of staff input,
she still made the decisions her-
self and informed employees of her decisions through company email. She maintained her decision making trends throughout her three years in the design department. mwikali felt that the act of listening to employees improved staff moral even though decisions rested solely with her as the departmental manager.
Unfortunately, both Simiyu and mwikali failed as managers. While mwikali’s softer approach held a better public veneer, it still resulted in the same outcomes as Simiyu whereby employees received orders from above without any meaningful shared decision process. Both approaches result in mediocre staff performance. many managers find it unnecessary to involve their staff in any kind of decision making. Philosophers over the generations pondered sim- ilar questions about leader involve- ment in subordinates’ lives. Is it better for a king to be feared or loved? In the five hundred years since Niccolò machiavelli posed the question to his readers, from princes and princesses, to presidents and prime ministers, to executives and managers, all largely preferred to generate fear from followers rather than adoration. researcher Emma Seppala released a study showing that most people in the labour force still assume that fear through tough and coercive bosses creates better work- places with higher outcomes than referent power wielded by friendly beloved leaders. Not surprising- ly, much of the twentieth century marked a cultural opinion that the best leader represented a firm, stern, quick decision maker who clearly provides instructions to his or her staff.
however, over the past thir- ty years, researchers consistently disproved such affinity for top- down autocratic leadership styles. Unfortunately, the directive approach still dominates much of corporate culture around the world and right here in East africa.
In dissecting appropriate approaches, let us first scrutinize two different kinds of decision envi- ronments. On one side a situation involving a life or death decision in a dangerous fluid environment could exist versus normal corporate operating environments faced by the majority of organisations on a regu- lar basis.
a life or death atmosphere, like in a military battlefield, necessitates short-term top-down decisions to make quick lifesaving decisions and quell risk. In an active combat or an a team does not retain the luxury of group decision making to get the best optimal result. Therefore, in the environment, suboptimal actions done quickly outweigh perfect but slower behaviour to yield immediate outcomes. however, over the long haul, perpetual danger does warrant other types of decisions rather than constant top-down approach- es. Stunning research conducted after World War II found that only between 10% and 20% of allied soldiers actually fired their weap- ons during battles. The other over 80% spent their battle time petri- fied, indignant, hiding, etc. The U.S. army in particular started incorporation self-efficacy, and team involvement activities that doubled the battlefield shoot rate to roughly 40% during the Vietnam War. Wars since 1990 saw even higher soldier shoot rates.
american Brigadier General Samuel Lyman atwood marshall famous- ly discussed the human behaviour issues of warfare in his book “The Problem of Battle command”.
regardless of one’s personal opinions on the horrors of wars, one clear point stands out. autocratic top-down decisions in times of acute crisis in the short-term can save lives and property, but perpetual dictatorial management actions even in dangerous environments severe- ly lowers performance. So today’s speed versus quality.
The second decision envi- ronment represents regular oper- ations in normal daily corporate environments. an emerging line of research in the past ten years with robust results involves the area of shared leadership. researchers craig Pearce and Jay conger noto- riously defined shared leadership as a dynamic, interactive influence process among individuals for which the objective is to lead one another to the achievement of group or orga- nizational goals or both. additional researchers michael Ensley and Keith hmieleski joined craig Pearce to further explain shared leadership as a team process where leadership is carried out by the team as a whole, rather than solely by a single desig- nated individual.
The issue in the above examples of Simiyu and mwikali both hinge around the lack of decision mak- ing involvement by their respective teams. Shared leadership goes deep- er than just listening to employees and creating a unity of purpose and vision. Unfortunately, studies show that most managers spend their time fighting proverbial fires that pop up in their offices and conflicts between employees rather than proactively solving problems before they start and optimally working with their staff to achieve peak performance. Then, when managers do get time to ponder how to become better leaders, a study by mcKinsey & company showed that managers get inundated with too much undeci- pherable advice online and through trainings. The mountain of “do this, not that” guidance overwhelms them such that their actions towards their staff do not change and they keep leading just like before.
however, shared leadership stands as a simple concept that man- agers can easily employ. corporate researchers robert Barnett and Nancy Weidenfeller amalgamate a plethora of other research findings to uncover that shared leadership holds the following specific results. First, managers who allow shared leader- ship notice increased team performance as measured by markedly improved client satisfaction ratings. Second, researchers can statistically isolate team decision making as a cause for growth in average annu- al revenues for participating firms. an additional study found simi- lar results via increased quarterly sales. Third, the practice improves team proactivity. as team mem- bers feel empowered to change the team aspects that they do not like, then they proactively solve problems that benefit performance. Fourth, executives who rate teamwork quan- tity and quality notice higher team performance from shared leader
ship groups than groups with top- down decision making from their managers. Fifth, shared leadership made teams more adept at achieving change and customers rated such groups as providing better quality. Sixth, even in experimental simu- lation settings, teams with shared leadership instead of top-down instruction performed statistically better. among the six different workplace outcomes, increased cli- ent satisfaction ratings yielded the greatest statistical improvement as a result of shared leadership.
Given all the compelling evi- dence in favour of shared leader- ship, why do the majority of corpo- rate leaders chart their own course, make top-down decisions, and as a result, achieve demonstrably lower performance outcomes? In short, shared leadership runs contrary to cultural norms. Business executives
like to see seemingly strong leaders take charge and commandingly lead subordinates. a disconnect unfortu- nately exists between what science knows and what businesses actually do. So now as a well-informed read- er of the Business monthly, what action steps can you take right now to move towards shared leadership and reap its benefits?
While social science developed multiple antecedent actions that lead to shared leadership, the following four managerial actions represent the most potent actions that man- agers can take immediately. First, social scientists Jay carson, Paul Tesluk, and Jennifer marrone rec- ommend that executives ensure that the internal team or internal organ- isational climate endures, as sup- portive of and conducive to shared leadership. Later researchers in two separate studies have since verified their results in different settings.
If managers do not recognise the individual value that each team members brings to the group, then those leaders will be less likely to allow teams to make decisions on their own. In plenary team meet- ings, supervisors must intentionally and explicitly state the importance of everyone on the team by indi- vidual and by individual attributes. Eliminate punitive measures taken historically against risk takers so that teams feel free from the threat of punishment for exercising their initial joint decision making powers.
Second, marcus Drescher and his large team of researchers as well as earlier and later studies delin- eate that entities must develop their team members’ and team leaders’ skills that prove essential to success- ful shared leadership. Such skills include communication, collabora- tion, conflict management, trust, and relationship building competencies. Organisations must beware not to concentrate training and learning only among management, but rather spread knowledge across the entity to the whole team in its entirety.
Third, Shawn Burke and fellow social scientists detail how compa- nies can help team members learn how to provide and accept construc- tive feedback to and from one anoth- er and to take responsibility for engaging regularly in the behaviour. Use clear unambiguous statements to foster new team norms such as, “we value everyone’s input”, “the team needs everyone in order to thrive”, “each one of you is valued”. Furthermore, require everyone to speak during team meetings so that the introverted employees receive the space to contribute towards team decisions and not cower at the aggressive verbal bullies that typi- cally swing team decisions in their favour. compel each team member to state positives and negatives to other team members. Inculcate a culture whereby the manager thanks employees for critical direct feed- back and trickledown the behaviour to lower levels of staff. also, cele- brate positive feedback and improve- ments that the team notices about each other and about the team.
Fourth, Schoeler Fausing and his team highlight the need for groups to receive advice on how to accurately assess the realities of interdepen- dence in team and personal goals, work, and tasks. If performance reviews remain a selfish sole activity that neglects investigating the reli- ance that every employee on a team places on the rest of the group, then efforts towards shared leadership will fall flat.
In summary, recognise the importance of shared leadership and the value that such team structures may bring to your team. Shared leadership takes time develop and does not occur overnight. as teams progress through different stages of performance, different roles for members of the team as well as team functions may shift and hold greater or diminished performance. Individual team members who, as uncovered in robert Barnett and Nancy Weidenfeller’s research, were found to hold integrity, self-lead- ership, collectivist orientation like many East africans, and trusting dispositions, make sharing leader- ship easier to achieve.
So as a manager, model appro- priate individual behaviour and change your teams to foster shared leadership in order to achieve maxi- mum results.
Scott serves as Chair of the Faculty Council, Director of the New Economy Venture Accelerator (NEVA), and Assistant Professor of Management at the United States International University of Africa, and may be
reached at scott@ScottProfessor.com or on Twitter: @ScottProfessor ©2017by Scott Bellows