Acting as One: The Collective Leadership Approach

Make sure leadership at your company permeates its culture, rather than being dictated by the C-suite alone.
James QuigleyJanuary 24, 2012

The ambition of organizational behavior can be stated simply as the ability to act “As One”: to effectively engage an organization’s people, purpose, and productivity. Many of the economic, political, and social challenges now confronting our society are variations of the same collective-action dilemma. Effective leadership, now more than ever, requires consistent attention and reevaluation.

As companies continue to grow and innovate in the face of an ever-evolving business landscape, management styles must adapt and change as well. But are CFOs up for the challenge?

The economic recession and increasingly competitive landscape have compelled us to be more inventive, adaptive, and resourceful in our approach to business. While previous command-and-control models of management are ideal for select business processes and scenarios — where strong, clear directive leadership is essential — we’ve come to realize they are no longer the sole models of management. Now, effective CFOs must embrace the advent of new participatory models.

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In my work at Deloitte around the idea of collective leadership, more than 60 organizations stood out that exemplified collective behavior using eight archetypes of leadership. These models presented various leadership approaches easily described by leader-follower pairs, such as landlord and tenants, conductor and orchestra, and general and soldiers. While organizations’ leadership styles may vary, one thing should remain constant: taking a collective leadership approach should help assure that leadership matches with and permeates an organization’s culture and business needs instead of being dictated by the C-suite alone.

Managing a New Generation
Along with adapting to a new business landscape, CFOs are tasked with effectively managing a very different generation of employees. Millennials expect frequent career/job changes and have a need for higher knowledge and education. Financial stability and job security are no longer guaranteed, and what’s important to today’s workforce is vastly different from the desires that were groomed in the 1960s and 1970s.

A recent study by Gallup, Mercer, and Right Management showed that 80% of the millennial generation is planning to look for a new position in 2012, and discontent among workers remains high. Employee dissatisfaction is in part due to leader-follower mismatches: when an employee desires a collaborative work style and a leader knows only how to direct, a lack of engagement ensues. So how can CFOs learn and effectively manage their employees’ needs?

  • Do your research. In a recent survey conducted by Robert Half International and Yahoo! Hotjobs, 35% of millennials said they “want to communicate with their boss several times a day and encourage a collaborative work style.” Learning about the millennial workforce will help CFOs better understand employees’ wants and create a corporate culture that fosters forward thinking. For example, millennials prefer to be consulted and highly value an environment in which their point of view is heard and respected. A leadership style that supports collective action — in which direct reports work closely with managers — can help ensure that both employees and management remain productive, engaged, and successful.
  • Understand employee needs. Employees are happiest when they are in an environment where they feel rewarded and encouraged to make progress. I encourage CFOs as well as their employees to take the “As One” archetype quiz. This tool allows CFOs to understand how they view their organization and how closely it coincides with the views of their employees. Effective CFOs cultivate a leadership style that is communicated and equally accepted by both.
  • Learn from those around you. Once you’ve completed the archetype quiz, see how other companies incorporated that method of leadership and how it proved successful for them. Through my work with Deloitte, we present case studies from more than 60 organizations that have used the various leader-follower pairs. Reference these as a guide for any changes you wish to make and ask yourself, “What strategies have they implemented that my staff and I can learn from?”

As business pressures continue to intensify, a collective leadership approach can help empower CFOs to embrace challenges and engage their workforce to collectively achieve success, helping ensure that they, and their companies, continue to thrive.

James Quigley is the former CEO of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu and currently a senior partner in its U.S. member firm. He is also co-author of As One: Individual Action, Collective Power (Portfolio Penguin, 2011).