Shared leadership occurs when managers and subordinates work together on a project with an emphasis on equal sharing of information and participation. In this CQ Dossier we provide a definition of shared leadership, describe how shared leadership works in practice, introduce you to the benefits and limitations of shared leadership, and give tips on how to implement shared leadership successfully in an organization.
There are several definitions of shared leadership. A most recent description captures the essence of how leaders and followers work together on projects:
Shared leadership occurs when two or more members engage in the leadership of the team in an effort to influence and direct fellow members to maximize team effectiveness (Bergman, Rentsch, Small, Davenport & Bergman, 2012).
The early roots of shared leadership can be seen as early as the Roman Empire, whereby a group of individuals shared power through the Senate. However, the concept of sharing power and influence among a number of individuals emerged through organizational efforts to manage individuals in teams and also through a focus on self-leadership whereby individuals ‘lead others to lead themselves’ (Cox & Sims, 1996).
It is important to distinguish shared leadership from team leadership because shared leadership describes how team members influence each other and share responsibility for tasks, rather than the concept of a team being led by a specific leader. Shared leadership occurs when a group of individuals lead each other to achieve successful outcomes (Carson, Tesluk, & Marrone, 2007).
Shared leadership and distributed leadership have the same core components
The notion that leadership arises from group cognitions, interactions and behaviors rather than through a formally appointed leader has attracted attention from scholars and professionals. Along with this attention, a variety of terms has been utilized to describe the process. One such term is distributed leadership, which is sometimes used interchangeably with shared leadership; however, although there has been some contention regarding the different terms, both types of leadership have the same core components (Northouse, 2007).
What are the cornerstones of shared leadership?
The concept of shared leadership focuses on the idea that tasks are shared through a team environment that relies on (Carson, 2007)
a shared purpose,
social support, and
These three dimensions are the cornerstones of shared leadership.
Shared purpose: Understand and appreciate collective goals
In fostering a shared purpose, team members understand and appreciate the main objectives of the team project and ensure that the team focuses on collective goals.
Social support: Provide emotional support to each other
In showing social support, team members provide emotional support to each other through showing encouragement or recognizing each team member’s individual contributions.
Voice: Appreciate each team member's contribution
The final cornerstone of voice is the ability of each team members to provide input to the team process. Voice occurs when the team places value and importance on each team member’s contribution (Carson et al., 2007).
When should shared leadership be used?
Interventions to encourage shared leadership are most effective when organizations are utilizing teams to achieve organizational objectives (Carson et al., 2007). Organizations can utilize shared leadership principles within teams, either with a designated formal leader or in teams without a designated leader (Carson et al., 2007). Vertical leadership does not need to be discarded and shared leadership can improve the internal processes within a team (Carson et al., 2007). Shared leadership works best when teams have a
It is best to have these elements in place before introducing initiatives that foster shared leadership.
What are the benefits of shared leadership?
There is research evidence to show that shared leadership is related to organizational performance. In a meta-analytic review, Wang and colleagues (Wang, Waldman & Zhang, 2014) examined the relationship of shared leadership to team effectiveness. They found that the type of leadership that is displayed within teams is related to team effectiveness with leadership styles of initiating structure and consideration showing a lower relationship to team effectiveness than charismatic leadership. Overall, shared leadership showed the strongest relationship to team effectiveness (Wang et al., 2014). Shared leadership showed a stronger relationship with team attitudes and behaviors, compared to team performance.
In a recent study of 62 teams across several organizations in Taiwan, Chiu and colleagues (Chiu, Owens & Tesluk, 2016) found that shared leadership was related to team task performance. They found that those teams who shared leadership gained leverage through harnessing the diverse knowledge, skills and ability of each team member (Chiu et al., 2016).
The research showed that those teams characterized by shared leadership had formal leaders who displayed humility, for example by admitting to their own limitations, were more willing to allow team members to take responsibility. In this way, team members embraced shared leadership (Chiu et al., 2016).
The shortcomings of shared leadership
Most of the research on shared leadership has uncovered the positive aspects of this leadership form on individual and team outcomes. There is little research uncovering the negative aspects of shared leadership, although there has been some conjecture on when it is ineffective.
Because decision-making is a shared process, it can take time for groups to make decisions compared to traditional leadership decision-making. It takes more time for team members to communicate and the building of relationships is a long-term process; however, these decisions tend to be more effective than rushed decision-making.
Functional diversity is important for shared leadership
One recent study showed that there are certain conditions that hinder the effectiveness of shared leadership (Kukenberger & D'Innocenzo, 2019). The researchers argued that antecedents are the building blocks of shared leadership and that functional diversity is important for shared leadership, but that gender diversity would have a negative impact on shared leadership. Their study among 73 undergraduate teams (n = 267) competing in a business simulation showed the gender diversity was negatively related to shared leadership. It is important that organizations consider the composition of their teams and also deal with biases and judgements concerning gender through employee training and development.
The implementation of shared leadership
In implementing shared leadership, it is important that organizations have already established a solid foundation for shared leadership to occur. Based on empirical research, several antecedents need to be established in order for shared leadership to evolve as a successful entity.
Structural support to implement shared leadership in an organization is needed and includes
It is important that team members feel that their peers support them in their work and that the team is committed and values their individual contributions (Hoch & Dulebohn, 2013).
In implementing shared leadership, it is important that organizations provide resources to team members. These resources can include information and rewards that facilitate engagement in shared leadership (Hoch & Dulebohn, 2013).
The information provided by organizations must enable team members to have an understanding of team and organizational goals and the alignment of team tasks with the overall goals of the organization.
Honesty and transparency are important in ensuring that information is disseminated to team members so that the team has the same level of understanding as the formal leader and are able to participate in decision-making (Hoch & Dulebohn, 2013).
Compensation matters in implementing shared leadership and organizations need to ensure that individuals are rewarded for individual team performance and shared leadership behaviors so that they are held accountable.
Finally, for the effective implementation of shared leadership, it is important that leaders assigned to formal positions display visionary and empowering leadership behaviors that encourage shared leadership development through increasing teamwork morale, sharing the vision of the organization, and encouraging self-management skills among team workers (Hoch & Dulebohn, 2013).
Shared leadership is effective but requires a solid foundation
In conclusion, shared leadership is an effective tool to increase team performance. The research evidence suggests that organizations need to cultivate an organizational climate that is willing to embrace shared leadership through a focus on creating positive attitudes towards diversity and for a leadership style that encourages participation.
Critical appraisal of shared leadership: Solidity Level 4
Based on the empirical evidence for the relationship of shared leadership to team outcomes, this dossier is assigned a Level 4 rating (based on a 1- 5 measurement scale). A level 4 is the second highest rating score for a Dossier, based on the evidence provided on the efficacy of shared leadership. To date, the research on shared leadership has demonstrated the importance of this construct to effective team performance.
Shared leadership occurs when a group of individuals lead each other to achieve successful outcomes
Tasks are shared through a team environment that relies on a shared purpose, social support, and voice
Shared leadership are most effective when organizations are utilizing teams to achieve organizational objectives
Empirical research shows that shared leadership is related to organizational performance
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.
Carson, J. B., Tesluk, P. E., & Marrone, J. A. (2007). Shared leadership in teams: an investigation of antecedent conditions and performance. Academy of Management Journal, 50, 5, 1217-1234.
Chiu, C-Y., Owens, B.P. & Tesluk, P.E. (2016). Initiating and utilizing shared leadership in teams: The role of leader humility, team proactive personality, and team performance capability. Journal of Applied Psychology, 101, 1705-1720.
Cox, J.F. and Sims, H.P. Jr (1996). Leadership and team citizenship behaviour: a model and measures. In Beyer- lein, M.M., Johnson, D.A. and Beyerlein, S.T. (eds), Advances in Interdisciplinary Studies of Work Teams: Team Leadership, Vol. 3. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, pp. 1–41.
Hoch, J. & Dulebohn, J. (2013). Shared Leadership in Enterprise Resource Planning and Human Resource Management System Implementation." Human Resource Management Review, 114.
Kukenberger, M.R., & D'Innocenzo, L. (2019). The building blocks of shared leadership: The interactive effects of diversity types, team climate, and time. Personnel Psychology. 2019; 1– 26.
Northouse, P.G. (2007). Leadership: Theory and Practice, 4th ed. London: Sage.
Wang, D., Waldman, D., & and Zhang, Z. (2014). A Meta-Analysis of Shared Leadership and Team Effectiveness. Journal of Applied Psychology 99, 181-98
Annette was born in England and now lives in the United States. She has a PhD in Industrial and Organizational Psychology and has taught at several institutions. Annette has published in several journals, including Journal of Applied Psychology, Personnel Psychology, Human Resource Development Quarterly, and Organizational Research Methods. She worked in the public and private sector for many years, primarily as a management trainer.