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Shared Leadership: A Tool for an Inclusive Workplace

Shared Leadership

Inclusivity is a key part of an effective and vibrant workplace. We work to provide you with tools, strategies, and approaches that can help you to bring inclusivity into your team and workplace culture.

Leadership is a key factor to ensure successful inclusivity. Jacque Anderson’s latest research at the University of St. Thomas has identified a new approach to leadership that leads perfectly to inclusivity: shared leadership.

What we understand as leadership, most commonly today is ‘functional leadership.’ Functional leadership is where one vertical leader leads by identifying the core team’s needs and processes to ensure success. Shared leadership is slightly different; based on the idea that leadership can be embodied by the entire team, not just the formal team leader.

As Anderson writes,

Shared leadership has consistently been described as an emergent, interactive influence process across individuals with the purpose of achieving team goals (Barnett & Weidenfeller, 2016).”

Essentially, in understanding each individual team members’ capability to influence and lead, leadership can become collective – although still guided by a vertical leader. This hybrid approach creates space for more communication, trust, and investment in success while still holding enough structure for a work environment where a completely horizontal hierarchy is often more chaotic than useful.

In Anderson’s research, a quantitative study that investigated roles, actions, and behaviors needed for shared leadership, 34 team leaders and 101 team members were involved across organizations in the midwest. Below is a blueprint of the findings and how best to apply them to your work team.

* All leadership skills and responsibilities can be shared.

Leader capabilities, while essential for the formal leader, can be helpful for team members to train as well. In the entire team being trained as leaders, the formal leader can take a more nuanced role. To start this process of having each team member embrace their leadership capabilities, trust, candor and openness are essential.

Start by fostering a safe space for conversation, your team can build up these qualities to then feel empowered to step into their full potential.

Take the time to understand each team member’s personal style. By better understanding each member’s tendencies, strengths and weaknesses, you can see how each member can play a role in this shared leadership approach.

* Constructive Feedback: Essential, yet an underdeveloped skill.

Feedback and peer coaching are helpful in any leadership approach but are particularly essential to the success of shared leadership. Yet, in Anderson’s study, this skill was identified as one that participants lacked across the board.

To avoid the fear of feedback:

Establish expectations. As the second phase of open communication and trust, expectations must be explicitly established and discussed. As team members step into shared leadership responsibilities, these conversations are vital to each person understanding what their role will be.

Invest in skill training. Skills such as feedback, peer coaching and open communication are important to success in the workplace. Shared leadership requires more investment from each member, meaning that these skills must be developed. Creating opportunities for the team members to actively develop these skills is an investment in the team’s long-term success.

* Involve the Team in Every Stage, Including Planning

Leadership is divided into two phases, according to Anderson: Planning and Execution. It may feel easier to involve your team in the execution stage of leadership, but Anderson’s research finds that involving the team in the planning serves an important purpose.

For example, for a blueprint of a project or articulating the project vision and objectives…bring in the team members. Their input will help share the responsibility of leadership, as well as help team members, feel involved and dedicated from start to finish.

* An Effective Leader Leads to Effective Shared Leadership

A leader casts a long shadow. From Anderson’s research, a leader recognized as effective by their team positively influences implementing a shared leadership approach. To ensure your effectiveness as the team leader:

Authentically connect with your team members. By sharing openly and showing up for your team members, they will feel heard and invested in the success of the team and project.

As a lesson in unprecedented times, 2020 taught us that we must adapt to changing circumstances. Shared leadership is an approach that is not only effective but allows for that flexibility in the face of change. As a tool for an inclusive work environment, shared leadership may be the next new necessity.


If your team could benefit from learning to implement inclusive practices look into our online courses.

Amy S. Tolbert, Ph.D., and Certified Speaking Professional is the founder and principal of ECCO International (Energizing Cultural Change in Organizations). She specializes in creating inclusive cultures through online courses, keynote presentations, and facilitated workshops and training. She is the author of Reversing the Ostrich Approach to Diversity: Pulling Your Head Out of the Sand.

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