A New Paradigm – Should Every Employee Be Treated as a Leader?
Peter Senge declared that “if you define a leader as an executive, then you absolutely deny everyone else in an organization the opportunity to be a leader.” In other words, he believed in broadening the definition of “leader” from a hierarchical position to a leadership mindset.

If every employee were to be treated as a more broadly defined “leader,” what would be the impact on the organization? According to a study by the O.C. Tanner Institute, the impact would be to “create the best leaders – and the best cultures.”

Certainly, this concept of “Should Every Employee Be Treated as a Leader” deserves a closer look.

Leadership, More Broadly Defined
Think of leaders as having the responsibility for making decisions, trying out new ideas, launching new projects, and being accountable for the results. Leaders in this broad sense evaluate the choices of how to do their job and the implications of the path they choose; accept the risks and are ready to adjust as needed; and are always on the lookout for how to improve systems and processes.

These employee-leaders are empowered with a degree of autonomy that encourages innovation and continuous learning.

What’s Missing to Treat Every Employee as a Leader
It sounds good so far. But if you let all employees loose as leaders by this definition, don’t you risk a “dis-organization” of lone wolves? Yes – potentially. We believe there are two key components of leadership missing in the definition of leaders, broadly defined. The missing ingredients are trust and alignment.

  • Trust
    Trust is the foundation for all healthy relationships. With high levels of trust, employees feel psychologically safe communicating openly, taking reasonable risks to learn and grow, and collaborating with one another so they work more efficiently and with similar purpose. Consistency and follow-through are the watch words of trust.

    Without trust at work, employees are apt to operate on their own, in silos, without collaboration and lacking the synergy that comes from leveraging the expertise of others. Whereas an organization built on trust as inspired and modeled by leaders increases employee engagement, productivity, and loyalty.

    Do you have enough leadership trust to treat every employee as a leader?

  • Organizational Alignment
    In addition to trust, there needs to be a unified direction toward which all the employee-leaders are committed to collectively. And that unified direction must be helped, not hindered, by the enterprise-wide culture and talent required to make it work.  We know from our Organizational Alignment Research of over 400 companies across eight industries that highly aligned companies significantly outperform their peers in terms of revenue growth, profitability, customer loyalty, leadership effectiveness, and employee engagement.

    Are you aligned enough to treat every employee as a leader?

The Bottom Line
If you want to treat employees as leaders to improve employee engagement, make sure that you have the foundational levels of trust and alignment before you open the flood gates.  Otherwise, you will create confusion, disharmony, and unmet expectations.

To learn more about how strong leaders build trust, download 29 Research-Backed Ways that Strong Leaders Build Trust

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