Business and Management INK

Collective Leadership for Everyone in the Organization?

July 13, 2020 3172

Today we hear from Joe Raelin, the Donald Gordon Visiting Professor of Leadership at South Africa’s University of Cape Town and the Knowles Chair Emeritus at Boston’s Northeastern University. Known globally for his work on action learning and a new paradigm for leadership he calls “leaderful practice.” Here he gives the backstory for his latest article in Management Learning which argues that democracy and hierarchy are inherently incompatible. His thoughts appear below the abstract of his paper.

We hear much about the “democratic ideal” as if it were unreachable within the walls of the organization. Of late, apologists have begun suggesting that there is no need to worry; democracy exists; it is just that it is often hidden from view right within the requisite hierarchical structure. Top managers are sharing their leadership roles with others in the organization. This provocation will take the opposite position that hierarchy and democratic leadership are predominantly incommensurate and that closer inspection would show that hierarchical conditions largely persist and that when democratic leadership occurs, it does so only with the conditional permission of those in control. The essay goes into detail regarding plural models of leadership, shows where they fall on the hierarchy–democracy continuum, and outlines how leaderful development might be able to prepare learners for real democratic experience.

line of ducks
In his Management Learning article, Joe Raelin makes the case that democratic organization can exist and be developed without hierarchical control.

In this INK blog I would like to share the primary reason why I wrote the current provocation, “Hierarchy’s Subordination of Democracy and How to Outrank It.” It is in some respects a follow-up to a prior provocation that appeared in Management Learning entitled: “What are You Afraid of: Collective Leadership and its Learning Implications.” In that essay I made the case that managers can safely endorse collective leadership, which I characterized as a co-construction of leadership by those involved in any undertaking. It is a dynamic process in which constellations of individuals freely assemble to contribute their knowledge, skill, and meaning to the task at hand.  Especially in this era, we need everyone’s contribution as we work with and through ongoing and evolving practices to manage the “turning points” that can confront new challenges. Some of the responses to the article, however, surprised me by asserting that there need be no fear of collective leadership because it “already exists” within the hierarchy of organizations. This response made me feel that I was not firm enough in insisting on the call for pure democratic organization, and that such a form of organizing can occur without hierarchy.

Joseph A. Raelin

My disputants insisted, nevertheless, that hierarchy and democracy need to co-exist. They argued that hierarchy permits and protects democracy and encourages its emergence when the conditions are right.  Further, there are hybrid models that allow democratic organizing such as in cases of spontaneous collaborations and other formal and informal team formations. But make no mistake, emboldened by Michels’ “Iron Law of Oligarchy,” they insist that hierarchy represents the natural human construction for organizing and coordinating large groups of people.  Any other form would be doomed to failure due to an anarchy resulting from negligent accountability and performance.

In the current provocation, I make the case that democratic organization can exist and be developed without hierarchical control. There is ample evidence across civilization and time that humans can self-organize without hierarchical structure. Workers are fully capable of governing their unit or organization to ensure its integrity and democratic order. Accountability for the organization can be collective when everyone watches out for each other and assumes moral responsibility rather than look to find fault or avoid blame.

Democracy is in reach therefore when inclusive practices reach a culmination of human flourishing in which people participate through their own exploratory, creative, and communal discourses. They are accorded a voice to shape their own organizational destiny. With participative voice comes an enhanced commitment to decisions made and a concomitant responsibility for outcomes. Work would not be orchestrated from the top of an organizational pyramid to be passed down a chain of command as much as it would be created through spontaneous and vigorous dialogue about the development of the organization. Being able to communicate one’s interests through critical dialogue free from coercion within one’s own community is the hallmark of a democratic order that in its creation relies upon the collective wisdom of its participants. 

Business and Management INK puts the spotlight on research published in our more than 100 management and business journals. We feature an inside view of the research that’s being published in top-tier SAGE journals by the authors themselves.

View all posts by Business & Management INK

Related Articles

Funny or Functional: Customer Engagement in Hedonic vs. Utilitarian Services
Business and Management INK
July 22, 2024

Funny or Functional: Customer Engagement in Hedonic vs. Utilitarian Services

Read Now
‘Push, Pull, Dance’: Public Health Procurement – Saving Lives and Preventing Harm
Business and Management INK
July 18, 2024

‘Push, Pull, Dance’: Public Health Procurement – Saving Lives and Preventing Harm

Read Now
Leading Boards in Chaos and Uncertainty? Have an Enlightened Approach
Business and Management INK
July 17, 2024

Leading Boards in Chaos and Uncertainty? Have an Enlightened Approach

Read Now
Studying Leadership Coaching in the Workplace
Business and Management INK
July 16, 2024

Studying Leadership Coaching in the Workplace

Read Now
The Case of Leftist Governments in Chile and Uruguay

The Case of Leftist Governments in Chile and Uruguay

In this article, Juan Bogliaccini and Aldo Madariaga explore leftist governments in peripheral economics — the topic of their recently published article, […]

Read Now
Exploring Public-Private Partnerships in the National Capital Region of the United States

Exploring Public-Private Partnerships in the National Capital Region of the United States

In this article, Yu Wang, Young Hoon Kwak, and Qingbin Cui reflect on the importance of effective public-private partnerships and how these […]

Read Now
With or Without You: Career Capital Development as Experienced by MBA Alumni

With or Without You: Career Capital Development as Experienced by MBA Alumni

In this article, co-authors Elizabeth Houldsworth, Andrea Tresidder, and Tatiana Rowson answer a few questions regarding the inspiration of their recent article, […]

Read Now
5 1 vote
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments