Volume 12, Number 6
is professor at Northeastern University and management
He is author of Creating Leaderful Organizations: How to
Bring Out Leadership in Everyone (Berrett-Koehler, San
leadership may be not what we need as we prepare to manage
twenty-first century organizations.
There are four tenets of conventional leadership.
Does It Mean to be “Leaderful?”
so-called “leaderless” groups are no longer in need of a
leader, or even a facilitator, because the group has learned to
conduct its affairs on its own.
It no longer has, or needs, leadership.
The problem with this idea is that it suggests a group may
at times be devoid of leadership.
It can go on for a while until there’s a crisis.
At that point, a leader may emerge to settle things down.
Consider, though, that some groups don’t lose their
leadership when they work like a well-oiled machine together.
Leadership, at this point, becomes distributed across all
It is not leaderless; it is leaderful.
It is full of leadership since everyone shares the
experience of providing leadership.
refer to the unit that receives or conducts leadership as community,
rather than group or organization, because it is more hospitable
to a notion of leadership that applies to the whole rather than to
the parts or their sum.
Four C’s of Leaderful Practice
leadership offers an alternative approach to conventional
leadership that is ripe for the requirements of communities in the
Leaderful managers are concurrent, collective,
collaborative and compassionate.
concurrent tenet of leaderful practice is the most
It suggests that in any community, more than one leader can
operate at the same time, so leaders willingly and naturally share
power with others.
Indeed, power can be increased by everyone working
Since leaders perform a variety of responsibilities in a
community, it is pointless to insist that only one leader operate
at any one time.
For example, and administrative assistant who “knows the
ropes” and can help others figure out who is knowledgeable about
a particular function may be just as important to the group as the
However, this same position leader need not “stand
down” nor give up his or her leadership as members of the
community turn their attention to the administrative assistant.
They, as well as many others, can offer their leadership to
the community at the same time.
leadership is collective.
Since we have dispelled the assumption that a group can
have only one leader, we can entertain the view that many people
within the community might operate as leaders.
Decisions are made by whoever has the relevant
Leadership may thus emerge from multiple members,
especially when important needs arise, whether preparing for a
strategic mission, creating meaning for the group, or proposing a
change in direction.
Although someone may initiate an activity, others become
involved and share leadership with the initiator.
leadership is also collaborative.
All members of the community, not just the position leader,
are in control of and may speak for the entire community.
Although they might assert themselves at times, they remain
equally sensitive to the views and feelings of others and consider
their viewpoints as equally valid.
They thus seek to engage in a public dialogue in which they
willingly open their beliefs and values to the scrutiny of others.
Their listening to others becomes rapt.
They also understand the difference between collaborating
as a pretense and becoming fully involved.
Collaborative leaders realize that everyone counts.
leaderful managers are compassionate.
By demonstrating compassion, one extends unadulterated
commitment to preserving the dignity of others.
Each member of the community is valued regardless of his or
her background or social standing, and all viewpoints are
considered regardless of whether they conform to current thought
In practicing compassion, leaders take the stance of a
learner who sees the adaptability of the community as dependent
upon the contribution of others.
Members of the community, not necessarily the position
leader, handle problems as they arise.
Do We Need to Be Leaderful?
already are having to cope with new forms of organization.
Information, reorganized now for decision making in the
form of distributed knowledge, is gradually breaking down our
More people have access to information that was once the
exclusive domain of top management.
As every organizational member receives the necessary tools
to run his or her immediate work function, he or she also sees how
that function connects to the rest of the organization.
When workers become more connected to one another, the
entire enterprise becomes much more interdependent than in the
Salespeople communicate customer preferences to systems
Nurses and dieticians become part of the same team.
Expertise has become as much a function of the
cross-functional unit operating together as intelligence professed
by one single individual.
Each worker also likely possesses knowledge that may exceed
that of his or her superiors.
order to unlock the knowledge of the workforce, organizations are
becoming far more fluid, experimenting with virtual and network
structures that have begun to even challenge our conventional
notion of “internal” and “external.”
In such organizations, clear boundaries that distinguish
the employees inside from customers, suppliers, and even
competitors outside no longer exist.
At Home Depot, for example, you might find a clerk who
looks like a Home Depot clerk but who actually works for
By collecting detailed point-of-sale information,
Georgia-Pacific expects to lower prices and reduce out-of-stock
shelves while lowering inventory.
then, becomes operative as a collective property, not the sole
sanctuary of any one (most important) member.
Our teams still require leadership, however.
They still need to establish a mission for themselves, work
collectively toward that mission, sustain their commitment, and
face future challenges as they arise.
It’s just that the leadership of the unit needs to come
from within the community, not from an ultimate authority imposed
from the outside.