Professor Joseph Raelin, expert in management and organizational development, recently sat down with D’Amore-McKim’s #LeadersatWork blog to discuss a business paradigm that he calls “leaderful practice.”
How would you define “leaderful practice?”
Joseph Raelin: Leaderful practice refers to the idea of leadership occurring collectively among people in social interaction rather than from individual action. I invented the term when asking students how they would refer to teams which were humming along as a single, cohesive unit, with everyone sharing the burden, supporting each other, and speaking for the entire team without any qualms. They would refer to it as a leader-“less” team. However, it is not a team devoid of leadership. Everybody is participating at the same time and all together. It is indeed “full” of leadership!
What are the main elements of leaderful practice?
JR: I refer to the “four C’s:” being concurrent, collective, collaborative, and compassionate.
Concurrent leadership means that not only can many members serve as leaders; they can do so at the same time. No one, including the supervisor, has to stand down when someone is making a contribution as a leader. Collective leadership means that everyone in the group is participating in leadership; the team is not dependent on one individual to take over. Collaborative leadership means that everyone is in control of and can speak for the entire team. All members pitch in to accomplish the work of the team. They engage with one another through dialogue, which, in turn, co-creates the enterprise. Finally, in compassionate leadership, members commit to preserving the dignity of every single member of the team, regardless of his or her background, status, or point of view.
Some organizations focus more on the use of teams than standard bureaucracy. How does this contribute to developing a leaderful environment?
JR: We are living in a networked economy characterized by webs of partnerships. It is no longer clear or meaningful who is giving orders to whom. Further, our bureaucracies are breaking down because knowledge has become widely distributed, giving managers on the ground the tools to run their own operation. It isn’t practical anymore to await your marching orders from headquarters.
How do companies change a corporate culture that is focused on individual leaders to having one that empowers a leaderful practice?
JR: For companies to make this change, they would need to gradually alter their culture toward a more democratic collective approach using what I call “leaderful development.” Essentially, the leaderful culture would grow to be one that endorses an environment of learning and participation and fosters respect for dissent.
What are three key components of developing and leveraging a leaderful practice?
JR: The most crucial aspects are: providing resources to individuals and teams to allow them to control their own destiny in collaboration with others; engaging in mutual learning to discover what it takes internally and externally to actualize a leaderful environment; and committing to the process and value of leaderful practice, from the top all the way to the bottom.
What are the attributes of companies that are able to make a successful change to leaderful practice? Can you provide any examples?
JR: It is important for people in every role and capacity to realize that their accomplishments are dependent on the contribution of others and that it is acceptable to express doubt about individual models of action resulting in the need to solicit feedback. A good example is how at Morning Star, the tomato processor, colleagues (not employees) are encouraged to produce not contracts but “colleague letters of understanding” (CLOUs), which outline their commitments to their team members and are openly shared on the company’s intranet.
Are millennials well-suited to engage in leaderful practice and if so, how come? Conversely, what challenges do older generations face when engaged in leaderful practice?
JR: Millennials are particularly well-suited because of their interest in personal responsibility and autonomy as well as their natural instinct to reach out and network with others. They still need encouragement because they are not overly interested in protest; if they don’t get what they want, they tend to just move on. Meanwhile, older generations brought up in directive environments are suspicious of the inculcation of democracy within the work environment. It may be okay for our governments in some circumstances, they may say, but businesses need to run top-down.
How does the trend of co-working business environments fit, if at all, into leaderful practice?
JR: It appears to be a mixed bag because on the bright side, it brings people into closer contact to share their mutual projects and serve as sounding boards to one another. On the other hand, it does not necessarily allow for the permanent development of deeper forms of relationships that produce risk-taking behavior and deep insights.