What do they mean...Distributed leadership

5th March 2004 at 00:00
The great thing about having just the one leader is that everybody knows whose fault everything is: the leader blames the underlings and the underlings blame the leader. On the face of it, this leaves everybody with a warm glow of justified disgruntlement, and they can all muddle along together unhappily.

In practice, however, this means that while the underlings only get a little bit of blame each, the leader gets several megatons of the stuff.

Leaders generally think this is unfair, as they always thought that getting to the top meant they could make everybody else suffer. Hence the creation of distributed leadership.

In this system the whole organisation is made up of leaders, all working together. This means they all get an equal share of the blame (sorry, responsibility). Well, not quite equal. The original leader is of course still at the top, being a sort of headleader, but now anything that goes wrong can be attributed to another leader further down the blamechain.

Now excuse me, but I thought this had been going on for years. However, it seems that highly-paid people in how-to-be-a-leader schools have just come up with it for themselves, and they're very pleased with it.

We at St Jude's were particularly taken with one of its components: de-centering the leader. This was very enjoyable, and lasted several days.

After that, we came up with some refinements of our own. It seemed to us that one group of people was unfairly missing out in the distribution of leadership. We have accordingly promoted all our students to become leaderettes. They can now allocate budgets, establish curriculum priorities, set standards of conduct and suspend anyone who doesn't meet them (from an overhead pipe). They also take it in turns to teach each other.

We senior leaders now have a crucial supervisory role to play, which we carry out from our lavishly refurbished suite on the top floor, with its splendid views of the carnage below. The leaderettes (well, those who survive) will of course fail all their exams miserably and spend the rest of their lives as misfits and losers. But they'll only have themselves to blame.

Tim Homfray

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