Book Launch for The Halpin Companies

book cover 11 11 2014_front only for printingThis afternoon, The Halpin Companies held a book launch for a project we’ve been hard at work on this summer and fall, Alignment for Success. Alignment for Success covers fundamentals of self-leadership and communication that leaders can use to build strongly aligned teams and organizations. It’s an excellent introduction to the coaching methodologies that The Halpin Companies have used to coach business to even greater levels of success for about twenty years now. I’ve worked on a number of projects for them since early 2007, and their leadership principles have profoundly affected me, my work, and my academic career.

Much of what I do for small businesses is confidential. It’s a challenge to tell people what I do, when I can only discuss much of it in the most general terms and can’t really show the final products of my work as a portfolio. So, it’s quite a thrill to be a part of the creation of this book and be able to show it off! Katharine, Bonnie, and I have put a lot of time and effort into this book, and we’re quite pleased with the results.

Working with authors is one of my favorite things to do, whether as writing coach, editor, collaborator, proofreader, or advisor on the process of book design and self-publishing. Since beginning Alignment for Success, I’ve also begun working with another author on a book about financial planning. We expect to have printed copies in his hands in January for a public speaking engagement. It’s exciting!

If you have a book in process or are considering writing one, let’s talk! I spend a lot of time doing academic research and writing, but I find projects like this one even more satisfying. Just visit my Contact Page and connect by phone or email.

The Unsigned Work Lasts Forever

The Unsigned Work Lasts Forever:
Humility in the Practice of Subordinate Leadership

Matthew Howard
Northern Arizona University


When we imagine a leader, we often think of someone at the pinnacle of the org chart, at the top of the hierarchy, with people working under them. But as we come to understand that leadership can permeate all levels of an organization, we see that leaders often have to work with people above them, too. When leaders need the power of people above them to put their plans into action, the political nature of leadership takes on paramount importance. One must persuade the “higher-ups” to back a project. This requires not only powers of negotiation and persuasion but the ability to demonstrate how the project meets the needs of one’s superiors. Kenneth Ashworth calls this aspect of leadership “subordinate leadership,” discussing it candidly in his opening remarks at the 2001 Central Texas ASPA conference.
Keywords: subordinate leadership, Kenneth Ashworth, leadership, persuasion, humility

The Practice of Subordinate Leadership

“The master doesn’t talk, he acts. When his work is done, the people say, ‘Amazing: We did it, all by ourselves!’” – Lao Tzu

Ashworth (2001) defines subordinate leadership as “leadership that comes from below rather than from the top” (p. 2). Leaders, he tells us, “find out what their followers want and need and long for, and then they satisfy those wants and needs and longings.” If we consider “followers” as people who have bought into a leaders vision and committed to making it a reality, then we need not imagine followers as only existing below a leader in a hierarchy. Often, the people a leader needs most as followers are people above her in a hierarchy. These are the people with the power and authority necessary to implement the vision in practical terms. This might take the form of their stamp of approval on a project’s budget, or stepping in to provide political clout, or standing up to adverse actions from outside the agency. Whatever the case may be, gaining the support of one’s superiors can make the difference between success and failure.

How does one gain this key support? Through powers of persuasion. But, Ashworth isn’t out to turn leaders into super salesmen with a series of tips on closing the deal. Instead, he focuses on developing the insight to show one’s superiors how the proposal satisfies their wants and needs. Speaking from years of experience, Ashworth tells us exactly want people in power want. They want to look good in the public eye. They want to take credit for popular projects. They want to exercise their power and be applauded for it. Therefore, a leader must tailor her proposals to fulfill these desires. Success lies in her ability to show the power players how they can look good by backing a project.

Dare to be Humble

“When her work is done, she forgets it. That is why it lasts forever.” – Lao Tzu

Kouzes and Posner (2012) write that “humility is the antidote to hubris” (p.341). Humility, they argue, requires accepting that one cannot achieve the vision alone. We need other people. Nowhere is a leader’s ability to swallow her pride more stringently tested than in the practice of subordinate leadership. If we are to let our superiors take credit for pushing our projects through, or even presenting our work and ideas as their own, we abandon hope of garnering public acclaim for ourselves in the process. This aspect of politics may seem unpalatable to those who need recognition for their achievements. So, Ashworth focuses not on the recognition but on the value of our projects. If we commit to the good a project can bring to the community or our agency, then it matters not whether we get credit for it. To see our ideas made into enduring realities, we focus on doing what it takes to see them through. “By letting others get credit for your ideas, you will get so much more done” (Ashworth, 2001, p.12).

Ashworth also reminds us humility includes resisting the urge to tell everyone how we made a plan come together, revealing the cleverness of our machinations to attain praise. We need to become masters of working behind the scenes, holding our cards close to our chest, and watching our plans unfold without drawing attention to ourselves. This may seem contrary to the current popular leadership concept of transparency, where everyone lays their cards on the table to freely share information. The difference is fundamentally political. Transparency is the anti-political approach to leadership. Transparency dismantles the traditional negotiation style of politics, where we all have hidden agendas and never reveal our full strength to our opponents. Transparency nurtures collaboration and innovation. But in the political sphere of getting things done in public agencies, we play a bigger game, often within organizations deeply entrenched in just that traditional style of negotiation. A policy of transparency should be, at least where our own role in political maneuvering is concerned, tempered by the wisdom of knowing when to shut up. As Ashworth says simply, “When you play for big stakes, learn to keep your mouth shut about how clever you are” (p. 11).

In the Public Sector

“Government programs, even when designed to be carried out in a direct and simple manner, eventually come to involve a large number of governmental and nongovernmental organizations and individuals” (Starling, 2001, p. 383).

In Managing the Public Sector, Starling calls dealing with a multiplicity of players “the complexity of joint action,” and it puts a fine point on Ashworth’s concept of subordinate leadership. Every one of the people and groups involved in the most basic implementation of administering a public program, even at the state and local level, has their own perspective, priorities, urgency levels, opinions, demands, and regulations. Any one of them might cause friction and conflict.

The successful subordinate leader will be the one who can show all of the players how projects meet their needs- their needs for public recognition, the admiration of their colleagues and constituents, feeling important, and looking good. The successful subordinate leader will have a master plan, a brilliant concept. And, she will abandon all hope of ever taking credit for it when it becomes reality. Instead, she creates a way for the other players to bask in the recognition, their reward for putting the resource of their power and influence to work.


Ashworth, K. (Oct. 19, 2001). Remarks on leadership to open Central Texas ASPA conference. Retrieved Jul. 30, 2013 from

Kouzes, J., & Posner, B. (2012). The leadership challenge: How to make extraordinary things happen in organizations (5th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Mitchell, S. (1988). Tao te ching: A new English version. New York, NY: HarperCollins publishing as HarperPerennial.

Starling, G. (2011). Managing the public sector. Boston, MA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Empowering Effective Teamwork

Empowering Effective Teamwork:
Culture, Structure, Diversity, and Reward

Matthew Howard
Northern Arizona University

PAS 450: Leadership Concepts, Skills, and Models
February 1, 2013


Ikujiro Nonaka presented a case study of the late 1980s Honda City project that provides a significant roadmap for leaders who want to learn both the cultural and the structural aspects of creating successful teams in their companies. Practical examples merge seamlessly with theory to illuminate the three critical success factors at the individual, group, and organizational levels: autonomy, dialogue, and structure. The case also demonstrated how the roles of middle and upper management change in this environment compared to the earlier and more restrictive Weberian hierarchies. The arguments closely correspond with other readings on diversity, communication, and structure. But, leaders must also consider how to reward teams effectively when they generate results.


While many leadership texts present wonderful ideas about teams, it often remains to the reader to conceive of what those ideas look like in practice. Nonaka made one of the most effective cases for this management approach because he did more than propose theory. He showed it in action. He addressed the critical success factors at each level of the organization and the structure needed to make them happen. At the individual level, people in teams require autonomy. At the team level, we need “open and frank dialogue” (Nonaka, 1988, p. 13). At the organizational level, we need structure.

Failing to understanding this final point, structure, is one of the biggest kinds of mistakes a manager can make in planning (Starling, 2011, p. 229). Nonaka pointed out that existing structures regulate the allocation of resources, the basic direction of teams, and mediation “between the desires of the group and of the individual” in the creative process. Nonaka also recognized that even in breaking up Weberian hierarchies into teams can benefit from the hierarchy structure. Rather than doing away with upper and middle management in his team approach, he assigned them roles appropriate to managing teams.

Nonaka called the Honda City approach “middle-up-down” management because the vision and leadership do not come solely from the top-down (upper management) or the bottom-up (workers in teams.) Instead, top management provides a general goal or direction, and then teams generate ideas and solutions. Middle management provides guidance and oversight of the teams. Ten years after Nonaka, Thompson and Sanders (1998) would agree that that “even a bottom-up strategy may require a top-down component.” They call this a hybrid model, where top management focuses on guiding teams by “legitimizing innovative behavior and facilitating learning” (p. 119). It seems Nonaka argued not only effectively but presciently. Management theory since his case study has come much more into alignment with his ideas over time.


Nonaka proposed that “the importance of… having a group with heterogeneous backgrounds cannot be overstated.” He described his case study group as coming from many different “jobs, orientations, and backgrounds” (p. 10). Success depends not just upon teams but on teams with diversity to gain a variety of perspectives.

But, according to Nonaka, “Many worried that the team would be unable to reach consensus” (p. 11). Managers must address this very real possibility when forming diverse teams. “When you’re working across cultures, interpretation often becomes misinterpretation” (Prince, 2004, p. 74). Managers must facilitate communication across cultural boundaries, playing the diplomat and resolving conflicts arising from misunderstandings.

Forming teams and facilitating their self-direction will generate results. But, at the end of this process, teams deserve rewards for their performance. Thompson’s Rewarding Teamwork (2000) provides an overview of ways a manager can reward teams. Incentive pay, profit-sharing, and recognition are three of the many ways teams to effectively reward teams (p. 38-43). Thompson also reminds us that rewards do not just magically happen at the end of a project. Managers set standards and performance benchmarks prior to the project. Throughout the project, managers measure progress. And, at the end, care must be taken to provide the right kind of rewards. Thompson cautions that “The gesture must be meaningful to the group… Giving team members tickets to an evening ball game in reward for putting in long hours on a project may be deflating to team members with families” (ibid, p. 41).


Creating both the organizational structure and a culture that empowers diverse teams “is vital to building sustainable leadership capacity” (Bal, 2004, p. 165). Nonaka’s case remains a significant example for leaders. It addresses organizational structure, roles, and functions at all levels of the organization in which teams can thrive. It provides a road map for leaders as creators of a culture where teams can thrive.


Bal, V., and Quinn, L. (2004). The missing link: organizational culture and leadership development. In Wilcox, M. and Rush, S., Eds., The CCL Guide to Leadership in Action, pp. 163-171. Jossey Bass: San Francisco, CA.

Nonaka, I. (Spring, 1988). Toward middle-up-down management: Accelerating information creation. Sloan Management Review, pp. 9-18.

Prince, D., and Hoppe, M. (2004). Leading transition: A talk with William Bridges. In Wilcox, M. and Rush, S., Eds., The CCL Guide to Leadership in Action, pp. 73-81. Jossey Bass: San Francisco, CA.

Thompson, I. (2000). Rewarding teamwork: compensation and performance appraisals. In Making the Team: A Guide for Managers, pp. 35-58.

Thompson, J., and Sanders, R. (1998). Reinventing public agencies: bottom-up versus top-down strategies. In Ingraham, P., Thompson, J., and Sanders, R., Eds., Transforming Government: Lessons from the Reinvention Laboratories, pp. 97-121. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Starling, G. (2011). Managing the public sector. Boston, MA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Company Culture and Conflict

Company Culture and Conflict:
Seeking Collaborative Resolutions

Matthew Howard
Northern Arizona University

PAS 450: Leadership Concepts, Skills, and Models
February 15, 2013


Collaborative approaches to conflict resolution reduce major organizational dysfunction. In fact, one of the major areas of dysfunction is fear of conflict. Masters & Albright present a valuable lesson in the real goals of resolving conflict, as well as a cogent program for collaborating. Their nine-step model simplifies the process, though managers will find in practice that things do not always follow such a precise linear sequence. Managers must be willing to relinquish control as their teams resolve conflicts on their own. This frees up the manager for the big picture and strategy. But, it requires both training for the teams and personal development for the leader to create cultures where teams can successfully resolve their conflicts.

Conflict and Culture

Masters and Albright (2005) propose five goals of conflict resolution: Prevent escalation, focus on the real problem, avoid personalizing the argument, invent solutions, and build relationships (p. 583). To achieve these goals, they advocate not compromise but collaboration. A collaborative approach to resolving conflict solves many of the five ways teams become dysfunctional. They are, as proposed by Patrick Lencioni (2005): absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results (p. 607).

Each one of these problem areas benefits from building a culture of collaborative resolution. Consider Lencioni’s third area of dysfunction: lack of commitment. This problem can arise from failures of team members to agree on any number of things: their vision, their roles, their duties. Reaching that agreement often requires the resolution of underlying conflicts. Even more to the point, Lencioni identifies a major area of dysfunction in fear of conflict (p. 619). People use an avoidance strategy or make compromises that make no one happy – all in an attempt to avoid the dreaded conflict. If teams knew they had a collaborative approach that could deepen their relationships and improve their jobs, how much of this dysfunction would disappear?

While Lencioni proposes several team exercises to improve team-based culture, Masters presents a single nine-step program for the collaborative approach: take a step back, confront the situation, sit back and listen, capture the situation, invite exploration, assess and analyze, propose possibility, reach outcome, build relationship (p. 583). This process serves his five high-level goals by improving human relations and generating innovative solutions that work for everyone. While things are rarely as simple for leaders as the program suggests, becoming competent in these areas will help resolve conflicts much more favorably.

What it Means for Leaders

Robert E. Quinn, author of Deep Change, reminds leaders that change does not often follow an orderly and systematic plan.

“Organizational and personal growth seldom follow a linear plan. This is an important principle to remember. When people recount a history of growth, they often tell it in a linear sequence, suggesting a rationality and control that never really existed” (Quinn, 1996, p. 83).

In this light, Masters’ perfect nine-step sequence appears unlikely. Masters captures the most significant components of collaborative resolution. But, in practice, many of these “steps” will happen all at the same time, or in any number of different sequences. In the most chaotic periods of growth, all kinds of unexpected conflicts pop up. The collaborative resolutions to conflicts will come in many forms, with varying blends of masters’ key elements.

If such chaos sounds difficult to manage, it can be. Effective managers will therefore oversee teams that collaborate on solutions to conflicts and challenges. They reduce their micromanagement of details, trusting their teams to produce amazing results. Effective managers end up with more time to address the big picture. Why then don’t more managers let their teams collaborate and create solutions to conflict? They fear losing control.

“It is key that leaders demonstrate restraint when their people engage in conflict and allow resolution to occur naturally, as messy as it can sometimes be. This can be a challenge because many leaders feel that they are somehow failing in their jobs by losing control of their teams during conflict” (Lencioni p. 618).

But, within a large and complex organization, managers must develop teams they can trust. No single person can solve all the problems of administering public policy. No single peacemaker can resolve every daily conflict in an agency, a city, or a state. Managers faced with great conflict in times of change and growth would do well to do more than simply read Masters and Albright. They will teach their teams these principles. They will allocate resources for training teams in these principles, following the example of plant manager Al Scott at Wilson Sporting Goods, “to ensure team success” (Lussier).

Even more, they will model them in practice for their teams by walking their talk. They communicate a vision of collaboration, but they must live it, too. “To create a climate of empowerment, we must first change ourselves” (Spreitzer, 2001, p. 30). Walking this talk requires leaders who have competencies in five areas: interpersonal, managerial, analytical, technical, and personal (Masters, 2005, p. 604). Sometimes innate within a born leader, many of these competencies can be studied, taught, and learned (Doh, 2003, p. 63-64). Therefore, the study of leadership amounts to more than an analysis of organizational structure or listing nine step plans. Undertaking the study of leadership is undertaking a personal journey of development and growth, to become a leader or perhaps to become a more effective one.


Those looking for a blueprint to conflict resolution will most appreciate Masters and Albright. The process of resolution may not be as well-defined as their model, but it makes a good start. It reduces dysfunction in all the major areas a company can go wrong. Lenicioni also gives a number of team exercises worth implementing. They will contribute to the relationship building component so vitally necessary to make resolving conflicts seem more appealing than avoiding them or escalating them.  


Doh, J. (March 2003). Can leadership be taught? Perspectives from management educators. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 2:1, pp. 54-67.

Lencioni, P. (2005). Overcoming the five dysfunctions of a team. In Management Skills: A Jossey-Bass Reader. Jossey Bass: San Francisco, CA.

Lussier. Objective Case: Wilson Sporting Goods. Northern Arizona University PAS450 Course Material accessed Feb. 2013. Source unknown.

Masters, M., and Albright, R. (2005). Dealing with conflict. In Management Skills: A Jossey-Bass Reader. Jossey Bass: San Francisco, CA.

Quinn, R., (1996). Deep change: discovering the leader within. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Spreitzer, G., and Quinn, R., (2001). A company of leaders: five disciplines for unleashing the power in your workforce. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Labor, Law, and Leadership:

Labor, Law, and Leadership:
A Case Study Analysis

Matthew Howard
Northern Arizona University

PAS 421C: Public Agency Policy
February 13, 2013


Human Resource Management involves the most valuable resource available to public agencies: human capital. Leaders want to satisfy their employees, avoiding costly strikes and job actions that run counter to effective administration of services. They need to lead organizational change with planned organizational development, building vision and consensus from within, although they also have larger cultural goals within the agency. Regardless of the legality of these job actions, that employees even consider them shows an underlying dissatisfaction resulting from poor leadership.

Examples and observations come from Denhardt and Miller’s 2000 case study, “Managing a City’s Health Benefits” in Public Performance & Management Review.


In this case, the Human Resources Manager faces the task of instituting an employee health care plan that better fits within the city’s budget. Yet his primary focus is the needs of the employees, the city’s human capital. He must consider not only the pressure from the union but the practicalities of employee retention and satisfaction.

Though the city’s problems are largely a matter of money, money is not the primary motivator of people at work. Although a necessity, of course, morale and productivity do not simply increase in proportion to increases in salary. The primary motivators have been identified as five satisfiers: achievement, recognition, the work itself, responsibility, and advancement (Starling, 2011, p. 357-9). In this case, recognition plays an important role. The employees want to know that their family and financial concerns matter to the city. They do not want to be punished by an oppressive cost increase in health services. They want to be recognized as valuable workers. Considering their needs in this policy decision will make them feel like people, not numbers.

But, one can easily see how dissatisfied they might become by having a huge cost increase shoved down their throats along with a reduction in provider options. Employees become most dissatisfied in five areas: company policy and administration, supervision, salary, interpersonal relations, and working conditions (idib). A policy decision perceived poorly will cause negativity in the city’s workforce. If we consider benefits part of salary, then a reduction in benefits can become a huge demotivator. Strangely enough, salary dissatisfaction causes proportionately more harm than salary increases create satisfaction. Management’s aim is not so complex, though. “Manager’s role is to remove the dissatisfiers… then use the… motivators… to meet higher-level needs and propel employees toward greater achievement and satisfaction” (ibid).

Law and Labor

The case study notes that state laws are not labor friendly and the city has authority to impose unpopular decisions on the labor force. How does this affect management’s decision about the health care plan? In short, it doesn’t. Taking advantage of the law to enforce an unpopular decision on employees will only make matters worse. This “us against them” mentality may carry legal authority, but it does nothing to engage employees or satisfy them. Much stronger authority comes from policies that employees help create, and which they consent to. Moreover, the use of this kind of legal authority shows a sever lack of real leadership. Leaders also have personal authority that comes from their demonstration of leadership and their charisma. In short, the policy decision is not the real challenge for our manager in this case. The real challenge is being accepted as a leader, so that the decision made will be honored and respected. And, this demonstration of leadership mettle needs to happen in a very short time.

Although state laws are not labor friendly, the laws are not clear on whether local government workers have a right to strike. Especially with the displeasure rampant within the unions, our manager faces the very real possibility of a strike. Frankly, he faces this possibility whether the law supports strikes or does not. “Laws have not prevented strikes,” for reasons such as unequal enforcement, failure of the law in the court of public opinion, and, as in the 1981 case of the air traffic controllers, complete disregard for the strike laws by the unions (ibid, p. 474). A strike is not going to be good for our manager, for the city, or for the employees. Legal or not, work stoppages will negatively affect all concerned.

In fact, strikes only form part of the potential downside. Should strikes prove an unworkable option for labor, they have other “job actions” available to them to pressure the city. They might choose to slow down their work or take massive, coordinated “sick days” to abandon the city (ibid, p. 475). These choices might appear strategically viable to disgruntled workers, even if only to voice their displeasure, but they will have little positive affect. Management really does need to consider finances (the money is public money, after all) and has made a genuine effort to consider employee needs. Just as resorting to legal authority results in an “us against them” battle, so too would a strike. The real question for our manager is this: Have I clearly communicated what we face to our workers so they know we are all on the same side?

Leading Organizational Change

Two leadership paths emerge for our HR manager. To shepherd the city through this transition, he might choose Organizational Development. This approach focuses on cultural change: surveys, feedback, sensitivity training, team building, intergroup development, and process consultation (Starling, 2011, p. 368). Its aim is a general transformation of agency culture.

While the City could benefit from some or all of these ideas, culturally, they will not solve the insurance problem. This problem requires Planned Organizational Change. This path contains eight elements (ibid, pp. 366-368): establish a sense of urgency, form a powerful guiding coalition, develop a compelling vision and strategy, communicate the vision widely, empower employees to act on the vision, generate short term wins, consolidate gains and greater change, and institutionalize change in the organizational culture.

However, this clear sequential plan comes to our manager in the eleventh hour. Coming in at the tail end of the health care decisions, he has little time to form coalitions. His intense review process involving department heads might be as close as he gets. He doesn’t have time to create empowered employee teams to generate a health care vision. He barely has time to create a vision himself.

All is not lost. He can still communicate to employees that everything is being done to consider their needs. He can reaffirm the importance of the city’s staff by recognizing their needs. He can produce short-term wins by demonstrating that of all the city’s options, his choice is the best for the employees. The new plan will correct the budget shortfalls in the short term. Perhaps a better plan can be made long-term. We believe that if the manager presents his own pressures transparently to the team, they will understand why the decisions are being made. Communication is key.

Over time, the manager will want to engage the unions and the employees more deeply in the process of addressing health care services. The current conflict is a symptom of underlying disconnect between the city and its labor force. A cultural shift must occur where the process becomes more collaborative. The manager should make it clear that this is the long term goal and vision for the city’s workers, and begin creating that culture. Bad decisions by previous management, however, have left our manager holding a hot potato. A decision must be made now. Long-term change will have to wait.


This case illustrates the importance of human resource management in public agencies. Human Resources forms the bridge between public policy and the people who must administer it. Mismanagement of an agency’s human capital creates strife and conflict that deter the agency from effectively administering its policy goals and services. Effective leaders will manage more with their hearts and less with the hammer of law, building vision and consensus within their organization. Satisfied employees are productive employees. Human Resources leaders would do well to focus on the key satisfiers, making public agency employment a rewarding and satisfying occupation.


Denhardt, K., and Miller, E. (December 2000). Managing a city’s health benefits. Public Performance & Management Review, 24:2, pp. 195-9.

Starling, G. (2011). Managing the public sector. Boston, MA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Building Cultures of Collective Leadership

Building Cultures of Collective Leadership:
A New Role for Leaders in the 21st Century


Leadership accomplishes three main tasks: set direction, create alignment, and generate commitment. While traditional hierarchies assign these tasks to a single person at the top of the hierarchy, groups of people can also achieve these tasks together. These teams practice collective leadership to generate vision, create solutions together, and move their organization forward. However, a culture must exist within which these groups can come together and flourish. In the 21st century, leaders will spend more time as social architects, forging networks and coalitions from which the collectives will grow. Leaders will shape organizational culture and structure to give these groups freedom to succeed. Most importantly, they will help their teams realize the qualities of effective leadership within themselves. 

What is Collective Leadership?

Collective Leadership is more than teaching everyone lists of all the positive qualities leaders have shown through the years. Transition Coach William Bridges points out books about leadership often “say that everything is leadership. Everybody needs to be a leader.” This trend makes the idea of leadership “cover so many positive qualities and positive behaviors that everything becomes leadership” (Alexander, 2004, p. 41).

So, rather than construct a list of qualities exhibited by leaders, Wilfred Drath looks at leaders’ three primary products. Leadership accomplishes three main tasks: setting direction, creating alignment, and generating commitment (Drath, 2004, p.175-6). Drath argues that once we know these intended products, groups can achieve them without a single leader.

We can see Drath’s conception of the future of leadership as collective leadership: the self-direction of teams. If we create a culture where groups lead themselves, then leaders will move into roles of people who foster culture. Leaders of the future, like gardeners, will initiate and inspire the growth of teams who can develop and achieve their own goals.

Essentials of Creating Cultures of Collective Leadership

It requires skills to generate and sustain an organizational culture. As Nonaka points out in his 1988 case study of the Honda City project, several things need to happen for success at the organizational, group, and individual level. Leaders in top management focus, however, on clarifying decision premises (how we will judge what is best) and designing organizational structures. They also allocate resources, making sure groups have the resources they need to succeed, and prioritizing limited resources between multiple groups. Top managers will interact with their groups to show their personal support and gather information (Nonaka, 1988, p. 14). Nonaka’s study also challenges the assumption that all vision comes from the top. It suggests vision can arise from within the workers’ teams (ibid, p. 17). They can choose their own direction. Leaders focus on setting target levels for the team’s performance, plans for the future, budgets, and communicating with everyone involved (Thompson, 2000, pp. 55-7).

For full effectiveness in guiding their creative teams, leaders need not just these structural skills but Goleman’s “emotional intelligence” – people skills. To forge coalitions requires diplomacy. Diplomacy requires tact, cultural sensitivity, and the willingness to reach across cultural barriers. It requires charisma to project a positive image, being someone people enjoy working with to build teams. It utilizes contacts that form a network of supporters and allies (Campbell, 2004, pp. 31-33). Creating culture grows out of personal interactions with people, communicating, and connecting.

Does Collective Leadership Eliminate Leaders?

Even when groups lead themselves, they often exist within a greater hierarchy where they have accountabilities. It takes a leader to organize them and give them a general mission, then let them explore and create a solution within those parameters. The Honda City case study exemplifies this. The Vice President of Research and Development appointed a chief researcher as Team Leader before setting the team to their problem (Nonaka, 1988, p. 9-10). The group had autonomy, but within the company structure. They found their own solutions, but someone gave them the basic problem – and had final approval of the solutions.

Therefore, we cannot reasonably expect that collective leadership eliminates singular leaders. Rather, it changes their roles into those of people who forge strong teams, match people and roles wisely, and help the team measure their performance. Leaders will connect people, and help them stay connected. “Getting more people working together in more ways increases the likelihood that people who are able to make the needed changes themselves will become influential in the leadership process. We call this connected leadership” (Drath, 2004, p. 177).

Often a successful collective begins due to the efforts of one strong leader. He or she builds an alliance of like-minded people with similar vision. When the group reaches a certain size, they retain collective spirit by appointing from within their ranks a council of leaders rather than a single figurehead. Consider Spain’s anarchist collective city, Marinaleda. It arose from the vision of one man (Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo) who forged partnerships, and maintains a council to make decisions, plan for the future, and allocate resources (Hancox, 2012). Collectivism does not mean society will have no need for leaders.

Concepts in Action: Personal Experience

Working in complex and diverse organizational cultures tests a leader’s ability to connect and guide teams. Experience teaches me that we usually assume people will have the same kind of reactions to things as we do. But, their cultures – aspects of their demographics and their world views – often lead them to respond in a totally different way. In America, we might cross our legs at a business meeting. But in Japan, showing someone the sole of your shoe causes offense. Training and exposure overcome these misunderstandings. We learn about other cultures, interact with them, and learn to respect their differences and commonalities. Often the small things, like learning how to say hello in someone’s native language, show that you genuinely care for someone’s culture.

Once our barriers come down, we can build collectives or shape their growth. Often I provide leadership by facilitating discussions with teams. They need to address practical matters, brainstorm, or develop a plan for the future. Asking the right questions can lead to brilliant answers from the group. Framing the context of the problem in another way can foster insights by the group. Helping bridge communication gaps between different parties, especially when someone has taken offense, requires tact and the ability to see from both perspectives. All the while, we work towards a group consensus that feels inspired. People then feel a personal commitment to the solutions they create. Consensus demonstrates their alignment.

When the groups are healthy, I can influence and oversee many of them. They develop their own visions and their own directions. Collective leadership, therefore, under a guiding hand, can accomplish more than singular control of all the details.


Leadership, then, comprises a host of important skills directed at achieving the three tasks of leadership: set direction, create alignment, and generate commitment. Once these tasks are understood, however, groups and team can collectively identify problems they face, and create solutions. They can choose a direction, align within their team on that vision, and demonstrate commitment to achieving their goals. Collective action still requires leaders, leaders with the interpersonal skills to create the organizational cultures where they can grow.


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Campbell, D. 2004. Nine keys to good leadership. In Wilcox, M. and Rush, S., Eds., The CCL Guide to Leadership in Action, pp. 29-33. Jossey Bass: San Francisco, CA.

Drath, W. 2004. Leading together: Complex challenges require a new approach. In Wilcox, M. and Rush, S., Eds., The CCL Guide to Leadership in Action, pp. 1719. Jossey Bass: San Francisco, CA.

Hancox, D. August 15, 2012. The Spanish Robin Hood. The Guardian. Retrieved from

Nonaka, I. Spring, 1988. Toward middle-up-down management: Accelerating information creation. Sloan Management Review, pp. 9-18.

Thompson, I. 2000. Rewarding teamwork: compensation and performance appraisals. In Making the Team: A Guide for Managers, pp. 35-58.