Monday, April 30, 2012

The Decline of Positional Leadership

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been exploring the theme of how to navigate through periods of prolonged uncertainty. Today, I want to examine a growing trend, namely the declining power of positional leadership and the rise of collaborative leadership in order to solve adaptive problems.
Over the last six months, I have gotten a lot of questions during 1/1 executive coaching sessions by people who have the title but not the power or ability to make change happen. They are deeply frustrated that the positional power that comes with their title does not generate the outcomes they are wanting to take place. 
On the other hand, I meet positional leaders in other companies who are making things happen. Here, buy-in is taking place. Ownership is on the rise, and strategy is not being trumped by tactics. When it is the same job title and yet two different companies, then I wonder what is the difference. 
My conclusion so far is that in many circumstances one person choose positional leadership, which can only make so much happen within a company while the more successful executives choose collaborative leadership. And with collaborative leadership, they access the power of the whole, i.e. the whole strategic nexus and the whole team.
Former From Vision to Action Leadership Training participants often talk with me about the importance of shared language and shared understanding. They tell me that having this is the unifying element to the work of making change happen successfully. Some call it their competitive advantage. The other thing they share with me is the importance of building shared commitment. To get this shared commitment, they have realized that positional leadership’s major tool is the power they have in their position. Collaborative leaders, on the other hand, activate the power of stakeholder enrollment.
Dan Cohen in his book, The Heart of Change Field Guide: Tools and Tactics for Leading Change in Your Organization (Harvard Business School Press, 2005), describes the stakeholder enrollment process as the movement from unaware to aware to understand to collaborate to commitment to advocate. From my observations over the last six months, I have seen a great many collaborative leaders consciously move people from unaware to commit. They do this by focusing on culture and results. Positional leaders, on the other hand, only focus on results, not recognizing the impact that day to day culture has on results. While this may seem pretty simplistic of an explanation, I believe it is a key to figuring out why positional leaders are in decline and collaborative leaders are on the rise.
Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

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