Shared Leadership: 4 Details You Need to Know

While shared leadership may be a fairly new concept in the business world, in theory it has been at work since the dawn of time. The only difference now is that we are actually recognizing and identifying that not all “leadership” looks exactly the same.

Traditionally, we have recognized leadership as be hierarchical – or as a pyramid where the person on the top was the superior with everyone else being subordinates. It turns out, however, this is not actually the case. In almost any successful business or venture since the beginning, there has always been a perceived leader and an invisible leader. What is happening now is that we are simply recognizing the invisible leader as being a leader in their own right. This partnership is what we now have come to label shared leadership.

Shared leadership

What Is Shared Leadership?

In almost any stable, successful endeavor there are almost always two leaders. This goes for families, businesses, companies, corporations and even entire countries. Invariably, there will always be a person whom the public views as being the leader. The other person is the one that the group actually take their cues from. Shared leadership is simply an acknowledgement of this historical factual reality.

Shared leadership is an acknowledgment of the person who has long been an “invisible leader” as being a genuine leader in their own right. Shared leadership is the pairing of a visionary or big-picture thinker with a manager who knows how to break their vision down into a series of day-to-day goals or smaller pictures. It is the pairing of diplomats with warriors, or someone who is constantly moving forward with someone who makes sure they aren’t trying to move forward so fast they are leaving all their people behind.

Who Uses Shared Leadership?

Shared leadership isn’t a new invention, it’s simply a recognition of what it is and always has been. Just look at almost any company with both long term stability and success – or any successful leader that led a long-term, stable, successful campaign, nation or business for that matter. You will invariably find they had a co-leader who got very little, if any, of the credit or recognition.

Bill Gates had Paul Allen, Steve Jobs had Steve Wozniak, Bill had Hillary just as FDR had Eleanor. Even JFK had Jackie and Barack has Michelle. What history also shows us is that when the publicly perceived leader attempts to usurp the authority of the invisible leader (such as in the case of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak), the entire company suffers. Shared leadership is the evolution of understanding that successful endeavors almost always require complementary leadership and that both leaders are equally important.

This doesn’t mean that individual leaders – like Henry Ford – have not built successful companies. Rather those companies tend to be plagued by volatility and generally end up in flames.

How Can Shared Leadership Help Your Business?

We are finally coming to a place of recognizing that the public figure of leadership is not always the person who holds most sway within the company or organization itself. Rather, publicly perceived leaders are often people who crave the limelight and can even be jealous of anyone else trying to take it. This is why acknowledging the invisible leader as actually being a valued and necessary part of the team is so important.

Very often the publicly perceived leader is a person who craves the spotlight and can be arrogant, self-aggrandizing or demanding. While these leaders certainly have their worth and value to the company, they generally need a more soft-spoken, thoughtful individual to keep things balanced, stable and on an even keel. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak are possibly the most famous example of the importance of shared leadership, and of acknowledging both parties as being equal leaders in their own way and in their own right.

3 Ways To Keep Shared Leadership On An Even Keel

The point of shared leadership is that two people bring complementary skills, qualities and traits to the table. Complementary inherently means opposite, however, and while opposites attract, they can also repel. Over time the very qualities that brought a great leadership team together and helped them achieve success can also begin to grate on each other over time. The risk-averse CFO can become frustrated by the risk-taking CEO whose actions helped them achieve success in the first place. Here are 5 ways to keep shared leaders functioning well together over the long haul.

1. Identify Individual Roles and Responsibilities

Highways have lane markers to keep everyone in their own lane and keep traffic running smoothly. This is very important for individuals who share leadership responsibilities. It is important early on – before conflict arises – to clearly define who does what and whose role it is to take care of what.

2. Decide Who Will Preside in a Crisis

There is absolutely a time for everyone to get behind one individual. The US Congress can temporarily bestow full authority on the President in times of crisis to make decisions without their approval. The important thing, however, is that protocols for this are laid out in advance. This includes situations when authority needs to return to Congress and how it is accomplished.

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3. Keep Lines of Communication Open, Even When It’s Tempting Not To

Knowledge is power and it can be tempting to want to hold information that one leader can use to their advantage from their co-leader. This is a very bad idea. Shared leadership depends heavily on trust. When you fail to share vital information, you destroy that trust. Even if you think that some action you want to take is within your authority to decide on your own and for yourself – and it may well be. But it is still strongly advisable to consult with your co-leader before taking any unusual or out-of-the ordinary action.

To Sum It Up

As they say, the whole is sometimes greater than the sum of its parts. Shared leadership has the power to create incredibly stable and successful organizations. This happens only if both leaders truly value the role of the other and choose to genuinely share both power and responsibility.

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