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It Takes a Village

I often hear the phrase “If you want something done right, then do it yourself”. From one perspective, this might be viewed as representing a strong work ethic. On the other hand, it might also be taken as an unspoken message that you do not trust those around you to get things done.

And while you may get the work done, you may end up sacrificing personal or family time in the process. Without realizing it, you may be overworking yourself. Overworking yourself can lead to more mistakes being made, poorer sleep quality, more stress, lowered energy and less social interaction. So yes, the work may be completed, but at what cost? As a leader, it may be difficult to relinquish duties to others. However, establishing a shared leadership environment where individuals can work freely can not only build trust within the team and increase overall productivity, but can also increase your own well-being.

Shared leadership

Shared leadership is defined as a process of collective dynamic influence among individual group members who lead each other to attain the group’s objectives. Teams that hold a shared leadership philosophy show an increase in ownership amongst group members, which leads to increased problem-solving abilities, which in turn enables the group to reach their full potential. A key aspect of a shared leadership environment is trust. If you do not communicate your trust in others, then the working environment will be less than optimal. Research shows that establishing trust decreases the chances of misinterpreting one’s behaviors. For example, if an individual you do not trust questions your idea, you may view that individual as being “out to get you.” However, if you trust that individual, then you are more likely to view that individual as being supportive or trying to help.

There are two main components of shared leadership: supportive environment and task complexity. A supportive environment relates to empowering those within the group to make their own decisions and to have input on organizational tasks. Providing your subordinates these opportunities can increase one’s confidence in their decision-making abilities and will also be more likely that they will provide their perspective during team meetings. Task complexity relates to the relationship between what is required of a task and the overall outcome. Research shows that the more complex the task is, the more shared leadership is required. When a task has multiple parts, it can be more effective to distribute the tasks amongst the team because the probability of completion increases. It also has the added benefit of increased effectiveness because you are able to direct your attention and efforts to a slice of the pie, as opposed to the whole thing.

While it is important to empower your subordinates to make their own decisions and lead their “sub teams”, it is also important to recognize that you are still the leader of the organization. Just because you implement a shared leadership environment, does not mean you give up your responsibilities as a leader. You still have a job to do, but giving your subordinates more autonomy in their work can have a long-lasting impact.

Utilizing Those Around You

My first year coaching high school basketball, I experienced the benefits of a shared leadership environment. Having been the assistant coach for six previous seasons, I did not realize all that goes into being a head coach: making practice plans, overall game script and the organizational demands. At the start of the season, I tried to do everything myself and it was extremely overwhelming. Even though I felt I was doing everything I could for my team, there was always something that I would forget or that I did not have an answer to. I had assistants and parents asking me what I needed, but I simply brushed it off. It was not until I started utilizing these resources around me, giving them the opportunities to take some of those tasks off my plate that operations became more efficient.

My assistant coach had more head coaching experience than I did, so I left him in charge of substitutions during games and I gave him a portion of practice so that I could spend energy elsewhere. In terms of parent meetings, team dinners and other administrative tasks, I left that to one of the parents. All I asked in return was that she kept me in the loop, which she did. This took even more off my plate to where I could now spend more time watching film and getting prepared for the next game or practice. I even utilized the freshman coach for parts of practice as well. He possessed some basketball skills superior to mine, so when he asked to help, I felt like this was an opportunity for him to lead my players so that I could focus on observation.

In summary, my first year of coaching could have been a disaster without implementing a shared leadership environment. While our overall record was not great, how we functioned as a team and how we functioned as an organization was more streamlined and therefore more effective because tasks were distributed among multiple individuals. This in essence allowed me to direct my energy where it needed to be, but also allowed me to lead through observation as opposed to doing all the tasks on my own.

How to Implement a Shared Leadership Environment

The first step in establishing a shared leadership environment is to identify how the strengths of your subordinates fit into the overall team goals. You first must identify what your team goals are, but once that process happens, understanding the strength of those around you can help guide you in allocating specific tasks. If you know that an individual is excellent at crunching numbers, then they might be someone you allocate financial tasks to.

The next step involves communication. First, let everybody know who is in charge of what and what your expectations are of that individual. Second, create that open-door policy. Inform everyone that they have the freedom to make their own decisions, but to keep you updated. Also, set the expectation up front that their input is strongly encouraged. While you will end up making the final decision, creating a safe place where others feel comfortable to provide their perspective can give you all the information you need to make an informed decision. Lastly, let those around you know that you trust them. When people know that their leaders trust them, they become more confident in their decision-making, are more motivated, and are more likely to enjoy their work.

Finally, what may help in divvying up the tasks is to first schedule time for yourself. Allocate time throughout your week for personal care or family time. Most try to fit in personal time after the fact, and if you have a busy schedule, we often sacrifice our own well-being. Therefore, doing this on the front end will now force you to relinquish tasks to other people. Taking care of yourself and spending time with your family is important if you want to have an effective work-life balance. You will see that not only will you be more effective, but your team will be more effective and motivated as well.

Final Thoughts

I understand that it may not be easy to relinquish tasks to other people. I also understand that you may not feel you have too much on your plate and you are just “doing your job”. However, if you are working non-stop, it is more difficult to see the residual impact overworking has on your personal well-being, your home life, and on your subordinates. Just because you relinquish tasks to other people, does not mean that you are not doing your job nor that you have lost your authority over the final product. Trust those around you, trust your ability to lead, and watch your team and your personal life thrive.


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