Competitive landscape requires vertical and shared leadership to thrive.

Competitive landscape requires vertical and shared leadership to thrive.

Steering a business that’s faced with increasing competition requires strong leadership as well as innovation and creativity. But the strategy for success can’t depend on one leader as the sole hero. It requires BOTH top-down and team shared leadership.

Nathan Hiller
Nathan Hiller

New research from Nathan Hiller, associate professor of global leadership and management at FIU Business, finds innovation and success is best fostered by shared leadership, with each team member assuming responsibility for some leadership tasks.

“It’s a globally competitive and fast-changing landscape where organizations and teams have to be innovating constantly,” Hiller, co-author of the research. “The best leaders recognize they need to foster their team to engage in this subtle but compelling form of team shared leadership.”

The research, which will be published in an upcoming issue of Personnel Psychology, examined the successes and failures of 64 R&D teams across the automotive, medical, telecom, and electronics sectors. It found that success doesn’t require different styles of leadership, but rather different forms of leadership. The objective is to think as a team – not “what I need to do” but “what we need to do” – and translate that into shared creativity.

Hiller, who is also faculty director of the FIU Center for Leadership, found that innovative teams shared in leading the development new products or refining existing products or processes. Successfully shared leadership tasks also included mentoring of their teammates, planning and organizing how core tasks should be structured and who should do them, and problem-solving, including making necessary adjustments, on the fly.

Competitive landscape requires vertical and shared leadership to thrive.

“Having team members share in these tasks doesn’t mean that a formal leader is irrelevant but rather that teams better innovate when team members get involved in some of the tasks of leading,” Hiller added. “This then also allows for the formally appointed team lead to focus on other strategic tasks.”

The findings, he noted, are especially important for organizations that are struggling.

“To get a leg up on innovation we need to think of how, collectively, leaders must enable their team,” said Hiller.

The paper was co-authored by Hiller with Wei He, Chinese University of Hong Kong; Po-Hao Adam Huang, University of Arkansas; Xu Huang, University of Canberra; Li‐Rong Long, Huazhong University of Science and Technology; and Shao‐Long Li, Wuhan University.

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