The New Silver Bullets of Leadership: The Importance of Self- and Shared Leadership in Knowledge Work
How are the capabilities of knowledge workers best harnessed? Traditionally, organizations have focused on a top-heavy, heroic model of leadership in order to extract work-product from their employees. We believe this model is a myth. It is becoming ever more difficult for any one person to be an expert on all aspects of the work that needs to be done, and this is true in a wide variety of contexts ranging from the research and development (R&D) lab to the executive suite. Recent research indicates that two alternative sources of leadership—self leadership and shared leadership—hold considerable promise for enhancing the performance of knowledge workers. In fact, research indicates that poor performing teams tend to be dominated by the team leader, while high performing teams display more dispersed leadership patterns, i.e., self- and shared leadership. This is not to suggest that leadership from above is unnecessary. On the contrary, the role of the designated leader is critical to the ongoing success of self- and shared leadership in knowledge work. This article examines the mythology of the top-heavy, heroic model of leadership; the key leadership challenges of today and tomorrow; the concepts of self- and shared leadership; the circumstances that call for the encouragement of self- and shared leadership; and how self- and shared leadership can be developed.