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I call Collective Leadership that state in the evolution of management teams or leadership teams when the power of the collective leadership is far greater than the sum of the power of the individual leaders, and when the team exercises leadership as a single unit, not as a collection of individuals.  It is not the same as a ‘high performance team’, where the focus is on excellent coordination, collaboration and delivery. I see the ‘high performance team’ as a state of operational excellence, whilst I see ‘Collective Leadership’ as a state of unified, single drive.

Better than a definition is to understand two Acid Tests of this ‘management status’.

Number one – ‘The Empty Chair Test’. A member of the leadership team disappears for a period of time (prolonged illness, he is called to a special project to acquire Company X, he is tasked with a sensitive corporate project that requires his full dedication, he is parachuted to Geography Y to sort out a serious crisis, he suddenly leaves, etc.). That chair is empty. I am talking about either a functional chair (CFO, Head of HR, VP of IT, Head of R&D, etc.), or a Regional or P&L/Commercial chair (Head of Europe, MD of France, VP of EMEA, etc.). It does not matter. The answer to that empty chair situation is (1) that somebody else from the Leadership Team jumps in and says ‘I’ll take care of your/that area/function’, and (2) that this is not dictated by the CEO, it just happens.

For the latter, imagine your day-to-day family life (or somebody else’s): ‘The car needs petrol, I am late for work. OK, You take the other car, I’ll take the kids to school and I’ll get petrol’. Explain to me, how many strategic decision committees were needed and how many discussions on ‘my role-your role’ took place before this action. Why is that, we, in organizations, are unable to replicate normal life? A mystery.

Acid test number two – ‘The Wrong Members Town Hall’. The Head of HR is visiting an affiliate at the scheduled time of a local Town Hall meeting when all employees are gathered to hear some corporate news. People would welcome (from the VIP Visitor) an update on (1) New Product Launches and (2) overall Company Performance or Quarterly Results. But, there is no ‘Commercial’ person from HQ! However, the Head of HR (member of the Leadership Team) is able to walk people through both, as if.  She has no commercial P&L responsibility but as member of the Leadership Teams she is able to deliver that speech, no problem. And people are a bit stunned, perplexed, amused, surprised. Great!

Similarly, Peter, the Senior VP of Commercial Operations in Europe, Africa and Middle East, finds himself unexpectedly in front of an annual event for HR people. The audience is composed of the company-wide HR community.   (Mary, the Head of HR has missed the plane for the Conference, but Peter, the commercial head of EMEA is in town). Peter is able to describe the entire HR strategic plan, no problem. And people are a bit stunned, perplexed, amused, surprised. Great!

I am sure you get the message. I have equal number of clients saying that ‘this is unrealistic’ or that ‘this is great, something to aspire to’.

In Collective Leadership mode, Functions, Regions, Support, P&L, non P&L, get blurred. Nobody expects people to be an expert in a functional, non-commercial area that is not theirs, but Collective Leadership means that it would be perfectly reasonable to deliver a non-expert, pretty accurate picture of any area, no matter what part of the business, if you are a member of the Leadership Team.

Imagine these two Acid Tests in your organization. Would it pass? Reflect on your own journey to Collective Leadership. Whether you are at the top, or less top, or less-less top, the principles apply.

If you are in the ‘this is unrealistic’ camp, my question to you is ‘Why?’

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