High-Speed Innovation With Distributed Leadership

It is uncommon, rather impossible, that one person has all the skills and talent to create success. Chances of success often increase with diverse perspectives and expertise of many. But the selection of person is also crucial.
If you look carefully at the current organisational mix, you will see an exciting emerging trend. Most companies now have at least three different generations in their employee mix. It is interesting because each of these generations looks at management principles and leadership quite differently.

So, the question is, with such a wide mix of talent, ideologies, thinking, and operating styles, how do you ensure high-speed innovation?
I have rarely seen an employee that wants to be told what to do. Instead, most of them want leaders to trust them for being capable of doing the right thing. And, from that perspective, most of the management principles from the past are not applicable anymore. When we think of a progressive organisation and innovation, these factors need to be accounted for.

The challenge

Volatility in the environment and ecosystem at various levels is increasing. Uncertainties are mounting and are increasingly becoming routine in business environments.
A volatile environment needs decisiveness. It needs a clear vision and curiosity to deal with it. Having a broad knowledge base can be helpful.
Dealing with uncertainty demands diversity and courage in teams. You need people bringing different perspectives and showing strong bias for action.
Now the challenge is, for most of the businesses, at least the ones I have seen, decision-making points are the major bottlenecks. They impede agility. It means they have an adverse impact in a volatile and uncertain environment.
If your business fails to remove these bottlenecks quickly and efficiently, survival could be a challenge soon. Pandemic has shown everyone a small demo of what can happen and how the smallest bottleneck can create dire situations.
Incumbent models of leadership emphasize compliance and resource distribution. They are mostly directive and hierarchical. However, with the new multi-generational employee-mix, it needs an overhaul.

A new perspective

It is uncommon, rather impossible, that one person has all the skills and talent to create success. Chances of success often increase with diverse perspectives and expertise of many.
That is where my proposed new leadership model will come in handy—the distributed leadership, that is, democratised decision-making at a cross-functional level.
You can explore this further by creating a team of decision-makers, the second line of leadership, where you can accept decisions by a minimum quorum.
Interestingly, blockchain uses a similar logic for autonomously approving transactions. It will reduce your workload. Additionally, it will also improve your speed of operation without increasing the risk.
Distributed leadership fundamentally differs from its traditional counterpart by focusing on collaboration and resource sharing versus resource allocation or distribution.
It is interactive and peer-to-peer versus being siloed. Therefore, it can offer adequate checks and balances for decision-making.

The future

Futuristic organisations, for the next decade or more, will have a multi-generational workforce. To make this employee mix work well, you must provide the right infrastructure, establish appropriate systems, and create the right environment. It will enable people to do their best.
Although it sounds like general advice every man and his dog seem to offer these days, the key is in its provenance.
Distributed leadership relies on people who lead with a definite purpose, intent, and knowledge. These are genuine thought leaders. And those who collaborate with other thought leaders are the influential ones. Now is the time for influential thought leadership to take the lead and build futuristic businesses.
This new leadership model has immense potential to improve business agility and help build a culture of diversity.
By design, there is no single point of failure. Yet, the ability to solve complex problems can increase—an increased need for participation and excellence, consensus, accountability, and sound decisions.
Leadership structures and evolution

But there is a caveat

However, remember that a poorly designed model is prone to decision deadlocks. The selection of members is also crucial. But you can easily avoid these issues by setting up ground rules and appropriate systems.
The new form of leadership might be a touchy subject for many. Many senior leaders feel this as a threat to their empire (whatever that means). However, it is not the case with progressive leaders who comfortably embrace new challenges and are forward thinkers.
In all the projects that I have worked on until now, there is a common thread of change management and communication. And I have directly worked with nearly a dozen companies by now. And I would have catered to over 65+ businesses. Most around innovation, business improvements, technology implementations, and so on.
But in both cases, change management or communication, if you miss the mark, success is at risk. Sometimes things fail; sometimes, they just become dysfunctional.
I have seen that happening in a multicultural environment, which is pretty much every second company in the world right now.
If you think about why it happens, you will find that lack of diversity, lack of inclusion, lack of employee involvement plays a crucial role.
While achieving diversity is easier, being inclusive and empowering employees for decision-making is harder to pull off. Especially when pale-male-stale ideologies are still floating around, it is a tough environment for many.
The advantage is, once you come through this mental block, experimentation can increase significantly. It essentially means innovation becomes easier for you. Implementation must follow, of course.

 

So, now what?

As indicated earlier, distributed leadership can quickly become a touchy subject. That, too, for high-speed innovation can be a hard sell (or buy). So here is a quick test you can do. Why not run a controlled experiment and try a few things?
Create a team of high-caliber leaders from your talent pool. Maintain cross-functionality. First, coach them, then offload some of your decision-making, and set up guidelines. Run distributed leadership experiment for a few months and review effectiveness.
Check what is working or not working and what you can do better. See what worked and what did not. Did it help you become more innovative, futuristic, and agile? If yes, then rinse and repeat.
One of the essential antidotes for leading in a volatile and uncertain world is the culture of experimentation. This culture must be established throughout the organisation to see the true benefits of experimentation efforts. The good part is, when you master the art of experimentation you will also master the art of innovation.

Anand Tamboli is a serial entrepreneur, speaker, award-winning author, and an emerging-technology thought leader.