In this short article, we will take a look at the current literature on Shared Leadership.
The Shared Leadership approach describes a dynamic and interactive influence process by individuals in teams.The aim of sharing leadership is to reach the team or organizational goal by encouraging team members to lead each other (Pearce & Conger, 2003).
Hence, the crucial difference of this approach compared to traditional approaches of leadership research is the fact that the influence process includes more people than the appointed leader. In the past, the term "leadership" comprised usually a single individual - the supervisor - and his/her relationship with the employees and while traditional research is focused more this (see left side in the illustration), the research on Shared Leadership is focused on the considerably larger area on the right side.
Graph: Distribution of leadership, adapted from Offermann & Scuderi in Meindl & Shamir, 2007
To separate Shared Leadership from other similar leadership constructs, several dimensions and unique features of this leadership approach have been discussed in the extant literature. Shared Leadership is a leadership process which is enacted by of those team members who don’t bear formal responsibility for the overall result of teamwork. Accordingly, Shared Leadership is considered as an informal and internal process. This necssitates also the presence of a formal and responsible executive manager and therefore, Shared Leadership and formal or vertical leadership are not mutually exclusive (D'Innocenzo, Mathieu & Kukenberger 2014; Morgeson, DeRue & Karam, 2010).
Dimensions of Shared Leadership, adapted from Morgeson et al. 2010
With Shared Leadership, the leadership functions are distributed to several or all individuals in a team or an organization and aren’t located in the hands of one person, thus allowing themembers of the team or organization members to change the leadership roles in an active and goal-oriented way. Thus, the whole group or organization is able to achieve the organization goals in a collective manner. This switching between leader and follower roles distinguishes Shared Leadership from traditional approaches. Therefore, when comparing Shared Leadership to traditional leadership, you’re able to identify a higher density of “leadership connections” as exampflified here.
Left: Formal Leadership with A as the leader. Right: Shared Leadership. Own illustration.
The specific knowledge and the various skills of the individuals in terms of the organization goals are crucial for the successful transfer of the leadership role, as it allows for the person with the highest expertise for any given situation to assume leadership. For this reason, Shared Leadership is particularly suitable for solving complex tasks, which require creativity, innovation and interdependence (Hoch, 2013). Thereby, teams are able to achieve higher team effectiveness and performance (D'Innocenzo et al, 2014; Nicolaides et al, 2014; Wang et al, 2014.). However in reality, we don't expect all team members to participate equally in shared leadership as shown above, but rather a unequal distribution of shared leadership like this:
A example of a leadership network. Own illustration.
As three recent meta-analysis have shown a strong effect of Shared Leadership on team performance (D'Innocenzo et al., 2014; Nicolaides et al., 2014; Wang et al., 2014), the antecedents or causes of Shared Leadership gain in importance. Why do certain persons participate in leading other other and how can we increase the level of overall participation?
The "Shared Leadership Study" aims to investigate these causes. A first literature review was written by Anika Reiter (2015)
in her bachelor thesis "The Antecedents of Shared Leadership" (See below for download). With thanks to and permission of the author we make this work available here. Generally, Mrs. Reiter notes
that although there’s already some research about the causes, this research is still in its infancy and should be extended.
This article will be expanded as more research becomes available (and of course time allows).
For the time being, I will also accumulate other resources on shared leadership.
Following is a 2010 video with Prof. Paul Tesluk, a researcher who contributed to the field of shared leadership (i.e. Carson & Tesluk, 2007), discussing its nature and the best place to use it.