Shared Leadership – A Collective Approach to Leadership

With new approaches to work evolving leading to more flexibility and freedom, business cultures getting more and more casual and informal and agile organization forms being regarded important to maintain or develop competitive advantage today, leadership styles need to adjust accordingly. In a new era shaped by the growth of the service industry and entrepreneurial ideals and dynamics, shared leadership appears to be a perfectly suitable way of exerting social influence in order to effectively reach goals.

What is Shared Leadership and what good can it do? While synonyms have been often used for Shared Leadership such as collaborative leadership, distributed leadership, or participatory leadership, Shared Leadership is described as taking influence in a collective way. As such it is a rather horizontal concept, opposite to vertical and hierarchical leadership. Though Shared Leadership research is a rather novel research stream, current research indicates largely positive outcomes. Shared Leadership is particularly helpful when it comes to increase a team’s effectiveness and performance. Comparing Vertical Leadership with Shared Leadership in terms of a team’s effectiveness, the letter is found to be greater in teams that utilize Shared Leadership rather than those that maintain the conventional vertical leadership structure. Positive outcomes can be expected especially for autonomous teams or groups involved in highly complex tasks. Even on top management level, Shared Leadership produces superior outcomes. While alpha top-dogs are rather known for individualistic leadership approaches, comparing Vertical and Shared Leadership among top management teams (TMTs) showed that Shared Leadership TMTs out-performed groups that had a vertical leadership structure. Furthermore, research found Shared Leadership within top management teams is indirectly related to firm performance through affecting the team’s positive affective tone. Besides that, there is evidence that points to positive effects of Shared Leadership on team-member skills, a higher level of team member satisfaction, a smoother team functioning with less task and emotional conflict, greater consensus and a higher level of intragroup trust, cooperation and cohesion.

In what context may Shared Leadership work best? When projects require creative approaches to produce innovative outcomes, such as in the service industry, for instance in management consulting and advisory, there is a higher chance for the emergence and development of Shared Leadership. Among the factors that can facilitate Shared Leadership are, for instance, creating an open communication climate and developing mutual trust within a team. Therefore, team leaders should establish strong shared climates in which all team members identify and evaluate their team positively, show strong trust in each other, and actively share and listen to each other’s ideas and opinions to promote Shared Leadership. Obviously, these ideals need to be supported by a corporate culture that puts compassion and performance first. Human resources professionals and managers may further ensure these conditions by spending more attention to orchestrate the right team composition and by introducing and developing various training programs targeting not only team leaders but all team members. Because Shared Leadership involves every team member in leading within a team, it is important to promote awareness of the value and conditions of Shared Leadership to every team member rather than targeting only team leaders.

By J.G. Park & S. Horak, GLR Labs

References and further reading:

Bergman, J. Z., Rentsch, J. R., Small, E. E., Davenport, S. W., & Bergman, S. M. (2012). The shared leadership process in decision-making teams. The Journal of Social Psychology, 152(1), 17-42.

D’Innocenzo, L., Mathieu, J. E., & Kukenberger, M. R. (2016). A meta-analysis of different forms of shared leadership–team performance relations. Journal of Management, 42(7), 1964-1991.

Ensley, M. D., Hmieleski, K. M., & Pearce, C. L. (2006). The importance of vertical and shared leadership within new venture top management teams: Implications for the performance of startups. The Leadership Quarterly, 17, 217–231.

Hmieleski, K. M., Cole, M. S., & Baron, R. A. (2012). Shared authentic leadership and new venture performance. Journal of Management, 38(5), 1476-1499.

Hoch, J. E., & Kozlowski, S. W. (2014). Leading virtual teams: Hierarchical leadership, structural supports, and shared team leadership. Journal of Applied Psychology, 99(3), 390-403.

Nicolaides, V. C., LaPort, K. A., Chen, T. R., Tomassetti, A. J., Weis, E. J., Zaccaro, S. J., & Cortina, J. M. (2014). The shared leadership of teams: A meta-analysis of proximal, distal, and moderating relationships. The Leadership Quarterly, 25(5), 923-942.

Wang, D., Waldman, D. A., & Zhang, Z. (2014). A meta-analysis of shared leadership and team effectiveness. Journal of Applied Psychology, 99(2), 181-198.

Wu, Q., Cormican, K., & Chen, G. (2020). A meta-analysis of shared leadership: Antecedents, consequences, and moderators. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 27(1), 49-64.

Zhu, J., Liao, Z., Yam, K. C., & Johnson, R. E. (2018). Shared leadership: A state‐of‐the‐art review and future research agenda. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 39(7), 834-852.

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