Getting Along—At the Top

Power sharing happens all the time, writes best-selling author Daniel Goleman. How leaders can get the most out of it.

Daniel Goleman, author of the best-seller “Emotional Intelligence,” is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry. His new book, "Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, Body," is now avaiable. 

A stereotype of leaders sees them as in a solitary role. The reality more often means a leader shares that role, whether collaborating on a time-limited project or in an ongoing position. Examples of these shared leadership projects include a task force composed of members from different divisions of an organization, a collaborative project between two or more organizations, and a public-private partnership to meet a community goal. Whatever the specifics, leaders work collaboratively and share power with other leaders who bring their own perspectives and skill sets.

Sharing leadership demands emotional intelligence. Leaders who are strong in several of these six emotional intelligence competencies will be more effective when leading collaboratively.

Emotional Self-Awareness
Being aware of your own emotions and how they impact your actions offers a strong platform for leading yourself. And in shared leadership such self-awareness allows you to recognize how your colleagues’ actions impact you.

Emotional Self-Control
Once you’re aware of your emotions, you can better manage what you do with them. Self-control allows you to pause before responding. You may feel angry at the actions of your co-leader or frustrated with their perspective. Self-control helps you choose whether or how to express those feelings with skill.

When you’re sharing leadership, it helps to be able to adapt to styles and strategies that may be different from what you would do if you were leading on your own. Adaptability means that you can remain focused on the goal while remaining flexible in what tactics you use to achieve that goal.

While self-awareness allows you to understand your own feelings, empathy shines a light on your co-leaders’ perspective. So often, in shared leadership situations we have to coordinate with someone we don’t know well. Empathy allows you to understand your co-leaders’ feelings and how their background impacts their perspective.

Organizational Awareness
Leaders always need to recognize the big picture of their organization and its culture and power relationships, as well as what’s going on between its parts. Shared leadership situations, especially those that cross organization or division boundaries, require that the leaders understand the dynamics within and between each organization or division.

Conflict Management
Conflict is a given in all work settings and seems inevitable when two or more people share leadership. To be effective in their collaboration, leaders need be skilled at acknowledging and understanding different perspectives, and capable of finding common ground.

Along with these emotional intelligence competencies, you can enhance shared leadership with common best practices. Clear and direct communication keeps each leader aware of the thoughts, feelings, and actions of the other leader. An agreed-upon delineation of roles and authority helps leaders understand their respective responsibilities and avoid issues like one leader making a renegade decision or announcement. Underpinning all shared leadership is the need for managing expectations: clearly articulating and negotiating your own expectations and those of others prevents frustration and resentment.

What collaborative leadership situations are on your horizon? Reflecting on your skills with these strategies and EI competencies and working to strengthen them can help. Your co-leader(s), direct reports, and organization will be glad you did.