How Sustainable Leadership Can Be Built Collectively
Leadership is often thought of as something that only concerns the CEO of a company, or a manager of a department.
It is linked to responsibility over a company, a department, staff, among others and it is also viewed as a skill that not everyone possesses.
But what if this definition of leadership could be replaced by another, more collaborative idea of leadership?
Leadership Is Not a Static Concept
As with most things in life, leadership too is influenced by our culture, generation, and personal views. Therefore, if you are looking for the meaning of leadership, you may find different answers depending on who you are asking.
For instance, themes such as individualism versus collectivism come into play there.
In the American society, which is generally on the individualistic side, a leader is one person who takes charge and makes the tough decisions.
Let’s take the example of Amazon, where the managers decide on the future of the company, its strategy, and work to increase the company value.
There is a clear distinction between the top employees and those employees who work in the warehouses, without the power to contribute to the company actions beyond their daily tasks.
A Different Approach to Leadership
On the other hand, leadership may be created collectively, which could entail a more sustainable way of leadership as well.
Mondragon, for example, is based on a cooperative business model which builds on intercooperation and grassroots management. Being one of the largest corporations in Spain, Mondragon still upholds the initial company values and democratic methods. By involving all employees in the leadership of the company, topics that affect the broad society are brought into the focus, namely sustainability.
Another prominent example is the John Lewis Partnership, UK’s largest employee-owned business. The goal behind the company was to find a better way of doing business – and it still is. Guided by principles and the company’s constitution, the employees and co-owners are given a voice in the management of the business. Rights are shared as well as responsibilities – increasing the involvement and agency of the employees.
These democratic companies highlight an important aspect: That if given the opportunity, employees from all different areas can have great ideas and help build a successful and sustainable business.
“Great things in business are never done by one person; they’re done by a team of people.” Steve Jobs
This quote by Steve Jobs underlines how teams of people can achieve things on an even greater and more meaningful scale than one great individual.
To have impactful leadership as a company, it is crucial to consider everyone that the company affects, and that includes the employees.
Yet employees are often neglected when analyzing the stakeholders’ expectations of a business. In a worst-case scenario, this neglect leads to dissatisfied workers and the ignoring of issues like the global climate crisis. Long-term, this would mean a business model that fails to consider central topics, leading to failures in the future.
The Search for Purpose
As the importance of corporate values grows for potential employees, companies need to consider whether their current strategy and management processes are resonating with their employees.
According to a survey conducted in the United States and Australia, the majority of employees need to feel a sense of pride regarding the company they work for.
More than ever, people seek a purpose in their work and will quit a job if they do not find one.
A collective leadership approach, taking into consideration all employees’ voices, has the benefit of co-creating the business’ values, which leads to an increased level of identification with the company.
Collective Leadership = Sustainable Business?
The enhanced diversity can lead to great results, but of course comes with its own challenges. Building a consensus tends to become more difficult when more people with their respective opinions are involved. It is near to impossible to make a decision that absolutely everyone in the company agrees with. Yet, by at least hearing out different opinions and finally making the decision democratically, acceptance for the majority vote should set in.
Finally, the advantages in the examples mentioned demonstrate that a collaborative leadership approach can work very well, and aid substantially in the creation of a sustainable and high-performing company.
This month here at Komoneed is all about jobs – about workplaces, work cultures, leadership and other topics! Stay tuned to read more interesting articles just like this one.
Now let’s hear it from you: What do you think of the following questions?
- For you personally, is it important to have a sense of purpose and meaning in your (future) work?
- Do you think democratic leadership styles are destined to fail because of the different interests?
- Have you ever worked in a company that took such a collaborative leadership approach? If yes, how was your experience?
- Do you know other interesting examples of leadership styles?
Should every company address sustainability and integrate it into the corporate strategy, or does that ultimately lead to greenwashing?
- MONDRAGON Corporation
- John Lewis Partnership
- New research – Work Life by Atlassian
- Millennials value social impact over profit (fastcompany.com)
- Celebrate Teamwork, Hard Work, and Collaboration (hubspot.com)
For you personally, is it important to have a sense of purpose and meaning in your (future) work: Absolutely!
Thanks for putting this question in the room. I am convinced of the fact that each individual can only excel in an environment in which he feels purpose. Companies must acknowledge this to keep their employees !
Yes!… We believe it’s a question of deep commitment!
Mondragon proves that together we can achieve great things !
Yes! Mondragon, John Lewis Partnership, Baywa, and many others!
The remote vs in person office policies is currently a big question in every company – now many HR managers say that asking for their employees backfired on the decision making as people do not wish to come back to the office … Sometimes having too many opinions is tricky too
Thanks Christoph! There is an emerging new dilema related to organizational culture and how to deal with it in this FONo situation -FONo: Fear of Normality
I do believe that sustainability is a must topic in each company so we can start changing the world. Little steps are valuable too!
I could never work for a company that does not have a democratic approach. However, I also work in small medium-sized companies
Thanks Achim! Mmmmm… Cooperatives have a sort of democratic organizations. The resto of companies have a hierarchical system which can be more or less flat… but not fully democratic
I like the inclusion of cultural factors – these should never be neglected in businesses