Why we need to reduce the power of leaders

Companies are changing their organization structures to become more agile and to allow teams to be self-organized. That requires very different leadership. Most leaders are aware of this but find it difficult to adjust their leadership style. Why? This video shows that we need to reduce the power of leaders in order to allow leaders to change their behavior and be fit for the future.

New leadership behavior is required

To stay competitive in today’s fast moving environment, companies need to be fast learning, agile and highly innovative. Significant efforts are therefore undertaken to break out of the rigid organization structures of the past. The number of layers is being reduced in order to have flatter organizations. Employees are encouraged to take more responsibility and we are implementing self-managed teams. These structural changes will work only if leaders adjust their behavior accordingly.

Many leaders aspire to that change, but ….

I believe that a large majority of leaders are embracing that need for change. Leaders today are well aware of these requirements and conscious of that they need to broaden their leadership behavior: away from a more command and control oriented style and moving instead towards coaching, facilitation, feedback and support. Leaders know that they are expected to create thereby a work environment where team members can bring themselves fully in.

But many leaders find it actually quite challenging to implement that change and to truly operate in a different leadership mode. Why?

Leadership power is a key aspect

I believe that the question of power is central aspect that we need to consider if we want to understand that difficulty. In our vertical organizations of the past, power was highly centralized in the hands of leaders. We have flattened our organization structures, but we have not yet fully addressed that question of power. It might even be a bit of a taboo to do so. Or have you ever heard someone say “we need to become more agile and we are therefore reducing the power our leaders have?”

We need to reduce the POWER of leaders

But that is precisely in my eyes what needs to be done. To reduce that power leaders still hold, because that aspect has never really been challenged. As a result, we have modern organization structures, but we still operate with the old power distribution. That miss-match obviously can’t work well!

As a result, leaders tend to still operate in the old way and have difficulties to break out of their well-established leadership pattern. We therefore need to change the environment that leaders operate in. We need to reduce their power. This has two facets: the formal and the informal aspects. Let me outline those here.

The formal aspects of leadership power

The formal aspects are related to the job descriptions and delegation of authority. But these formal aspects are also reflected in the way processes are defined (for example using the RACI approach) and in the company governance (e.g. decision rights in our management bodies).

All of those formal parts need to be reviewed. We need to systematically check how we can reduce the power that is currently centralized in the hand of a few and bring that power down into the organization. That needs to be done with a systematic approach at company level.

I believe that if we re-engineer leadership in that way, leaders will actually find it much easier to operate in a different mode.

The informal aspects of leadership power

Secondly there is the broad spectrum of informal characteristics of leadership power. That includes for example the way leaders communicate, interact in team meetings or the language they use.

Recently I heard about a situation where a leader responded for more than an hour to questions from senior management. The team was silent in the back. That example illustrates a leader who had no intention to share any power. This type of behavior is obviously sending a strong signal into the organization.

We need to break the taboo

Reducing the power leaders have requires alignment between the formal changes and the informal aspects that transpire in the way leaders behave. We will need to break that taboo and openly speak about the fact that leadership power is being reduced. Leaders will need to be part of that change and advocate for it.

Empower the teams

Once that change will be implemented, leaders will eventually have the space they need to be able to operate in a very different way. They will no longer be permanently absorbed by decision making, but will be able to spend the necessary time to provide real support to the teams. That quality time will allow for true coaching of self-managed teams. It will provide the room leaders need to efficiently facilitate change instead of commanding it. Leaders will be able to provide the constructive feedback to teams and to talents that is required to reinforce organizational learning. This is how we will achieve the empowerment of the teams that leaders today aspire to.

Reducing their power will allow leaders to be fit for the future!

More information in my book:

Sven Sommerlatte : Successful Career Strategy – An HR Practitioner’s Guide to Reach Your Dream Job (Springer, June 2023).  ISBN: 978-3-662-66790-3

Click here to find my book




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