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Monday, September 11, 2017

What Organizations Can Learn About Shared Leadership from the Military?

No leader can be all to everyone and within every situation. There are lots of people who can lead in one situation and fail in another. We are complex human beings and often need to rely on others in order to manage teams under serious threat or stress effectively. A study in the Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies helps us understand Military teams and how the concept of shared leadership can work in the military and within other types of organizations (Ramthun & Matkin, 2014).

Let us consider what a stressful situation is and what it is not. From a military context it means being under serious risk or physical or psychological injury. The pressures are great and one must make decisions on the fly that could have serious consequences for themselves and their team. It is not normal frustrations of life as the circumstances are often beyond fathom of the average person.

While the threat of physical harm isn't normal in most workplaces there can be serious psychological threats such as loss of income, loss of social position, ruining of reputation, damage to one's career and so forth. Perhaps in rare circumstances actual life can be threatened through accidents and disaster. Yet in most cases a team may be working on high stake projects that have serious consequences for themselves and their future under pressures that could be considered crisis oriented.

Because serious threat produces stress and physiological changes in people there is a need for shared leadership in order to hedge skills. One's focus narrows, in some cases their brains speed or slow, and they anchor their ideas to one idea over another which changes their perception. A single leader would have a difficult time managing all of the decisions and information when they are under threat themselves.

This ability to draw from multiple strengths and hedge weaknesses is why shared leadership works. When leadership responsibilities are shared people can jump in based on their current knowledge, physiological states, and abilities. Because leaders don't have all of the knowledge or abilities they must rely on their team members to cover some of these responsibilities. The more they can delegate and focus on their core outcomes the higher the chance of their success and survival.

The study was qualitative in its approach but drew from lived experiences of people who were actually in these situations. They found that shared leadership was effective where vertical leadership might fail. This requires a higher level of training and engagement as a team. The lesson for companies is that team members should be empowered to bring forward their knowledge and abilities when they are needed. They should be taking over tasks they are good at and bonding with members to ensure there is mutual trust between parties. As members of a highly developed team they outspoken and focused on the teams success regardless of whether it is a military or organizational context.

Ramtun, A. & Matkin, G. (2014). Leading Dangerously: A Case Study of Military Teams and Shared Leadership in Dangerous Environments. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 21 (3).

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