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Creating Leaderful Organizations: How to Bring Out Leadership in Everyone
Joseph A. Raelin
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2003 1st Edition
250 pages (paperback) ISBN 157675233-X

Creating Leaderful Organizations challenges the common expectation that every organization or group needs one primary leader setting the direction for everyone else. It includes summaries of different leadership philosophies, and promotes the idea of distributed leadership.


Do you ever feel like you're the only person on the project team who's worried about where the project is going and why? Who sees the vision of what the business needs from this project and is actively, daily, carrying the flag to ensure that's what the team actually gets done? Well, perhaps that's an exaggeration, hopefully we're seldom if every the only ones worried about leading the team in the right direction. But I'll bet many of us have at one time or another wished for more "leader-minded" thought and behavior from all our individual team members.

The book Creating Leaderful Organizations is aimed squarely at this "superman leader" paradigm. It challenges the common expectation that every organization or group primarily needs one leader "out front" setting that direction for everyone else. It thus speaks directly to our desire to get every team member taking responsibility for the successful direction and execution of our projects.

The book promotes the idea of distributed leadership. It discusses key elements of distributed leadership: it must be concurrent, collective, collaborative, and compassionate. Each chapter has sub-sections discussing what those "C factors" mean and look like in action. The book also covers practical aspects of how to implement the approach: How to prepare for it, how to distribute leadership roles, how to deal with employees who resist the new approach.

The book includes summaries of different leadership philosophies that I found interesting to be able to skim in one place, along with a great deal of conceptual explanation of the author's views of leadership and how they map to those other philosophies. This theoretical material is balanced with numerous examples of "leaderful practice" in action at a variety of companies. There is a self-assessment checklist for determining where your attitude toward leadership falls on a continuum from authoritarian to distributed, as a way to baseline how far you (or your organization) may have to go.

A few excerpts from the book:

    Delegation does not mean tasking others lower in the organizational hierarchy. "... delegation occurs when others are prepared to assume responsibility for work that typically resides above their level."

    "An organizational metaphor that represents the structural difference between leaderful practice and leadership might be soccer compared to football ... in soccer you have a group of people flying in formation as opposed to a quarterback and the people supporting that person."

    "In the leaderful organization, training managers for leadership can be severely counterproductive. Rather than training one person in the community to be the 'leader', it is advisable to train everyone to be leaderful."

    "Leaderful groups rarely, if ever, show up. They have to be built. Members arrive on a team with varying degrees of ability—experience, education, understanding of the job in question—and of motivation, confidence, willingness to do the job, sense of responsibility." (The chapter then goes on to talk about how the manager must adapt to each person's situation to eventually bring the group as a whole to the point where leadership is more distributed.)
I found Chapter 6, "Concurrent Leadership" most interesting as applying very directly to typical project team challenges. It includes sub-sections on the leader as situational manager—including helping team members in different ways to adopt more leadership attitudes based on their current skills and attitudes; and the leader as team facilitator, including helping others on the team learn to lead. Within Chapter 8, "Collaborative Leadership," I found very useful the subsection on leader as change agent; and in the sub-section on leader as mutual influencer, a nice summary table on change influence strategies.

Overall the book is a not a fast read if you go through all the conceptual material and references to other thinkers' constructs for leadership. However, I found myself alternating between reading with interest the theory that applies to my current situations, and skimming to find examples of "leaderful" behavior I might put into practice.

I believe this book as a whole is most appropriate for a person involved in fostering changes in their organization to achieve more distributed leadership throughout. It can also be skimmed for some new leadership insights and practical actionable nuggets by the individual concerned with creating more distributed leadership within their specific team.

Chapter Map


Part I: Presenting a New Paradigm for Leadership: Leaderful Practice
    The Tenets of Leaderful Practice
    The Distinctiveness of Leaderful Practice
    The Challenges of Leaderful Practice
    The Development of Leaderful Practice
    The Benefits of Leaderful Practice

Part II: Uncovering the Traditions of Leaderful Practice
    Concurrent Leadership
    Collective Leadership
    Collaborative Leadership
    Compassionate Leadership
    Getting Started on Your Leaderful Quest

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