Leadership is the sum of its parts

By Rajveen Takhar

When I was recently asked to pull together an organisational chart for our team for a board meeting, my first reaction was to create a pyramid diagram, with the leader on top, followed by four successive layers of Senior management, Deputy management, Junior management, and Advisers.

While this is how most of us would describe the structure of an organisation - does it still reflect the reality of management today? Is it still fit for purpose? In my case, the team and I quickly realised that such a rigid hierarchy can hardly be considered as aspirational. 

It was only until after I left my job in the public sector that I discovered new models of working. These models see teams as being the sum of their parts. Emphasis is placed on having more fluid teams where individuals' duties are allocated to them based on their strengths, skills and personal interests, as opposed to what their titles are. In retrospect, as a fresh pair of eyes, I felt I had rightly captured the top down essence of my former team, and to some degree perhaps highlighted where our working model was failing us. 

We now find ourselves in an environment of co-creation, where we seek to work more collaboratively and effectively with our colleagues. Ideas and structures are no longer based on a hierarchy, but rather on skills, expertise and personalities. We now find ourselves in an environment where a teenager, namely the Summly app developer, Nick D'Aloisi, is working alongside the President and CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer, to develop and create cutting edge technology. His age is left at the door. His ideas are not. 

This is illustrative of a shift towards the employees of a company being hailed as one its strongest assets when it comes to trust and reputation. 

There is an increasing need for leaders to communicate their vision, and collaborate with their team to collectively achieve this vision. Research has recently shown that influence is being redistributed from traditional authority figures such as CEOs and prime ministers towards employees, peers and people with credentials.

This gradually erodes the top down approach that is instilled in many organisations. We now have the opportunity to work within a culture which is beginning to resemble the true meritocracy which most organisations promise, but few deliver. This marks an age where leaders are seeking to empower their workforce, but what does this mean in practice? Here are three key ways leaders could seek to embrace this shift:

  1. Ensure everyone's role is well-defined: According to Forbes magazine, most companies fail to unlock the full potential of their workforce because they fail to define what they want from their employees and how they want them to do it. This can make it difficult to lead each other to where you want to go. 
  2. Don't pay lip service: If you want to change the way you work, then the change needs to become part of the companies DNA. Invest time and effort to listening to your employees and working together to achieve new ways of doing things. This also involves giving credit where it's due. 
  3. Know your team: Learn about the strengths of your team and where you can put their skills into practice at work. This understanding forms the bedrock of a truly engaged, multidisciplinary and integrated team.

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