the ceo magazine, leadership,
Sebastian Salicru
, Author, Leadership Results: How to Create Adaptive Leaders and High-performing Organizations for an Uncertain World

As an experienced and astute CEO, you have realized already that the rules of the game have changed. The new world of turbulence, volatility, high velocity, and the disruption caused by a plethora of new technologies, has also changed the context and demands for effective leadership. Leaders across sectors and industries now have to adapt to new rules for business and for leadership building capability.

The leadership required in this emerging and progressively competitive new economy requires balancing short and long-term views, strong resilience, agility and adaptability. Above all, however, CEOs are called on to build strong networks of leaders within their organization. This critical mandate relates to building the collective leadership capability to generate direction, alignment, and commitment across the organization like never before. The key question is, how to do it?

Collective leadership is developed by focusing on the processes of leadership rather than the attributes of individual leaders. It means treating the collective entity (team, organization, or community) as a single unit of focus and measurement. Collective leadership practices enable teams and organizations to operate effectively in an increasingly complex context by empowering individuals to exercise leadership depending on each new situation. This form of mutual influence is central to the concept of ‘pluralistic leadership’ – the umbrella term used when referring to the various forms of leadership (e.g. distributed, collective, collaborative, shared or emergent). This way of leading is rarely learned in traditional leadership development programs. Most teams learn it in the course of their everyday work; this applies particularly to the geographically dispersed teams that are now the norm for many organizations.

Building collective leadership requires several things and has various implications. First, it requires placing less emphasis on the characteristics (e.g. traits or personality) that belong to individuals traditionally called leaders. Second, it means that everyone in a team or organization takes responsibility for the progress and success of the unit and not just for their own job or role. This implies that teams/organizations distribute leadership to the those with the most suitable expertise, capability, motivation or voice at any given time. This type of leadership emerges (hence the term ‘emergent’ leadership) through social/relational practices as the team works on real-time projects. The priority, focus, and unit of analysis becomes the actual ‘practice of leadership’ or ‘leaderful practice’.

Leaderful practices are described as the four Cs – collective, concurrent, collaborative, and compassionate:

  • Collective — any member in the team/organization can provide leadership at any given time to mobilize action or make decisions on behalf of others.
  • Concurrent — leadership emerges from everywhere, and at any time, as important issues arise; no one depends on one individual or authority.
  • Collaborative — anyone can speak for the whole team/organization, and advocate a point of view they believe can contribute to the common good.
  • Compassionate — everyone is committed to preserving each other’s dignity, regardless of background, social status or point of view.

In conclusion, collective leadership means everyone takes responsibility for the progress and success of the unit, not just their own jobs or roles. As you can imagine, in practice, transitioning from traditional, conditioned and constrained mindsets of current organizational and managerial conventions can be extremely challenging. It requires embarking on a journey of cultural change that needs to be fully supported by the CEO and all senior managers.

About the Author

Sebastian Salicru is a leadership development expert and author of Leadership Results: How to Create Adaptive Leaders and High-performing Organizations for an Uncertain World (Wiley, 2017). He is a leadership development expert based in Sydney who works globally. 


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