Advances in technology continue to change the workforce, replacing many traditional jobs with entirely new roles and tasks. However, humans remain at the heart of these technological changes, and therefore one challenge that is likely to persist even in the workplaces of tomorrow is the need for effective leadership.
On Friday, 11th of Oct., Professor Charlotte Jonasson, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychological and Behavioural Sciences at Aarhus University, Denmark, delivered a lecture entitled ‘Distributed Leadership: Reconciling Professional and Managerial Concerns During and After a Hospital Merger’ to a room full of engaged KDIS students. Professor Jonasson’s work acknowledges the gap between professionals’ and managers’ values and imperatives and examines how the gap can be reconciled, particularly through the emerging concept of ‘distributed leadership’. Distributed leadership is defined as the sharing of leadership tasks between formal leaders (i.e. managers) and employees. Professor Jonasson cites distributed leadership as a critique of the traditional top-down and individual-based leadership theories.
Professor Jonasson applied the concept of distributed leadership as part of a research consortium at Aarhus University that examined the merger of four hospitals between 2011 and 2014. The longitudinal study and qualitative analysis components of this study included 46 interviews in total, spanning hospital staff such as top administrative managers, head consultants at the hospital and ward levels, and consultants and residents at the local ward and unit levels. Considering these different levels within the hospital system, in addition to the specialised units and professionals such as nurses, doctors, etc. within each unit, the potential opportunities and barriers to implementing distributed leadership as part of the merger were assessed by the research team as well as by the staff through the interviews.
The research consortium’s initial findings identified professional values and managerial imperatives among the staff at the ward level, and the presence of opportunities for distributed leadership practices not only between the levels of hospitals and the health system, but also across professions. On the other hand, at the hospital level, administrative decision-making was identified as being relatively more restricted, resulting in conflicts between health professionals and managers. Thorough qualitative analysis of the interview data led the research team to develop a matrix for distinguishing professional leadership tasks and administrative tasks on one axis, and hospital level leadership and ward level leadership on the other axis. Along both spectrums, the research findings also helped establish the unique opportunities and barriers to sharing leadership tasks among staff in the various sections of the four hospitals.
A key insight from Professor Jonasson’s presentation was that reconciling the gap between managers and professionals is critical to policy implementation or merger success for any organization. She proposed distributed leadership as an instrument for bridging this gap, boosting the legitimacy of major organizational changes, and enhancing collaboration between team members at all levels – Professor Jonasson called for further research into interactions between different organizational levels and leadership tasks, and encouraged everyone to consider how distributed leadership may be applied within their own organizations.
In conclusion, Professor Jonasson’s advice to KDIS students and aspiring managers is to distinguish between a “leader” and “leadership”. Although organizations will likely continue to be hierarchical into the future, these organizational levels need not be accompanied by a top-down approach to management. Distributed leadership – the sharing of leadership tasks – enables managers to leverage the expertise of their teams and augment the legitimacy of decisions. Similarly, team members who receive the opportunity to participate in leadership tasks are more likely to feel that they are engaged shareholders in the organization, working collectively towards shared goals.