What is a Leaderful Organization?

I am part of my company’s Women’s Initiative Network (WIN) and am the lead of the Employee committee, which is focused on leadership development for our female employees.  I was on a call with the vice chair and we were brainstorming the vision statement for WIN’s website.  After bouncing ideas at one another, I came up with the first half: “To create a leaderful organization” and she, the second half: “where employees feel empowered and have the opportunity to grow as leaders.”  When I first said “leaderful” she asked “what’s that?” So I quickly explained in a few sentences, and once it made sense to her, she suggested the second half.   When reading the two parts together, the second half illustrates the “leaderful organization.”  We were psyched.

Unfortunately, after we sent out the vision statement to the other committee members, all immediately asked “what’s leaderful?” and although I explained it via email, they all agreed it should be replaced because “no one knows what it means.” The new statement is now: “To foster a culture where all employees can practice leadership & be empowered to learn and grow as leaders.” The irony is that this version essentially means the same thing as our original statement; which I’m very glad the meaning is still intact.  So I thought I’d take this opportunity to explain what a “leaderful organization” is.

Joe Raelin (2003) argues that leadership has shifted from traditional (single) leaders to leadership as collective and collaborative.  By distributing leadership practice across all members, a “system full of leadership” is created.  Raelin suggests the 4 C’s to move towards such an organization:

  • Concurrent: The belief that multiple people can offer their leadership at the same time “without taking away the leadership of others”
  • Collective: Decision-making emerges from multiple members
  • Collaborative: Members represent the whole and control it through “dialogue around differences”
  • Compassionate: Respect for each member’s worth

When I first read about this type of leadership practice, I thought to myself, “Wow, what a great way to get people off their butts and more involved.”  Because we’ve all heard statements at work like “It’s over my pay grade,” “It’s not my problem, someone else can handle it,” or “We need to hire a leader to fix this issue.” These are the excuses people make to avoid exercising leadership, because they don’t feel accountable or empowered.

I hope this shed some light on what a “leaderful organization” is.  Not to mention, highlight the importance of keeping an open mind.

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