Shared vs Distributed Leadership (Essay Sample)
the paper is an answer to the following question as posed by the client:
question: Organizations are moving away from single leaders at the pinnacle of the organization. Critically examine shared vs distributed forms of leadership.
the paper introduces the two forms of leadership as being linked by a lack of consensus on whether leadership is a mutually influential process or a specialized role. The two forms have been discussed singly then their characteristics and differences discussed at the end.
SHARED VS DISTRIBUTED LEADERSHIP
Shared vs. Distributed Leadership
Leadership is an extensively researched subject. Hence, researchers hold wide-ranging ideas concerning leadership, which go beyond the duly appointed leader. Two of the most prevalent views are distributed and shared leadership (Northouse 2018). They are linked by the lack of consensus on whether leadership is a mutually influential process or a specialized role. Although both notions differ, they agree on the social and inclusive nature of leadership.
Shared leadership (SL) mainly originates from research on team-based leadership. Hence, it is defined as a team activity where an entire group enacts leadership (Northouse 2018). In SL, team members make decisions collaboratively and are mutually accountable for results (Dust & Ziegert 2016). SL can be viewed as a leadership network that shapes individual and team actions and outcomes (Dust & Ziegert 2016). Thus, SL is simultaneous, continuous, and interactive, leverages the knowledge of the team or group, and flows through collaboration and peer (lateral) or upward or downward (vertical) influence. SL can be used when a team has only one designated leader, but many activities occur concurrently (Northouse 2018). Despite unequally sharing leadership roles and influence, team members’ participation is guaranteed.
SL boasts of three key merits. Firstly, it is a suitable alternative to hierarchical or vertical leadership (Northouse 2018). Spreading information and authority across many organizational members enables them to act quickly without the need for top-down instruction and approval. Secondly, SL helps to cultivate leadership and management talent (Dust & Ziegert 2016). A firm can expand management and leadership capabilities companywide by engaging all staff in value and strategy creation and other duties typically reserved for senior executives. Lastly, SL supports effectual change management (Dust & Ziegert 2016). Every change project is often more demanding than a few leaders can comfortably tackle. SL solves this problem by encouraging the delegation of tasks and decision-making authority. Similarly, change efforts quickly become fragile when orchestrated by a single leader; if they depart or falter, the entire exercise stalls or collapses altogether. With SL, other competent individuals can take the reins and perpetuate the desired transformation.
Conversely, the available research reveals two main demerits of SL. Firstly, it is one-sided due to its preoccupation with the individual leader or leadership agents (Northouse 2018). Resultantly, it ignores contextual forces affecting the execution of leadership activities. Secondly, the transition to SL upsets established command structures or authority relations within firms (Northouse 2018). However, SL literature provides no solutions to such systemic effects.
Distributed leadership (DL) has roots in the educational sector. It is pragmatic in that it deems leadership as “a practice or a collective social process emerging through the interactions of multiple actors” (Dust & Ziegert 2016, p. 520). Hence, DL seeks to establish how leadership works, including the persons responsible and the development of individuals into leaders. The distributed perspective shifts attention from personal leadership attributes or actions to the scenario in which leadership is required (Dust & Ziegert 2016). From this standpoint, even holders of informal leadership positions are believed to play a part in leadership –“the leader-plus aspect” (Dust & Ziegert 2016, p. 522). Besides acknowledging multiple players, DL also examines their interactions and the leadership context.
Authors conceptualize DL differently within the organizational environment. According to some scholars, DL occurs in three ways: “collaborated, collective, and coordinated distribution” (Northouse 2018, p. 318). In collaborated distribution, two or more people simultaneously perform the same leadership function in a shared space. In collective distribution, individuals accomplish a leadership action in separate locations, though interdependently. In the coordinated type, leadership routines run sequentially.
Other researchers offer alternative ways of thinking about DL. Examples include “formal, pragmatic, strategic, incremental, opportunistic, and cultural distribution” (Dust & Ziegert 2016, p. 523). In the formal taxonomy, leadership is deliberately devolved, whereas the pragmatic conceptualization consists of negotiating and dividing leadership duties between different individuals. Strategic distribution involves hiring new people with the necessary skills, expertise, or resources to fill a leadership gap. DL is incremental when people receive more leadership responsibilities gradually as they build experience but opportunistic when actors readily and arbitrarily accept additional leadership roles beyond those typically related to their jobs. DL is cultural when a group or organizational members naturally assume and organically share leadership duties. These frameworks articulate the diverse manifestations of DL in organizations.
DL has some strengths and limitations. One notable advantage is that it includes situational factors as constitutive components of leadership practice and individual behaviors in formal and informal leadership roles (Northouse 2018). Additionally, it decreases follower dependence by allowing all staff to play leadership roles (Dust & Ziegert 2016). Thus, DL has significant implications for the recognition and development of leaders within firms. Although it systemically integrates other leadership forms, DL theory is largely detached from the broader leadership literature due to its restriction to particular settings or locations, especially educational institutions (Dust & Ziegert 2016). Moreover, like in the case of SL, the shift to DL disrupts existing role relations (Dust & Ziegert 2016). However, DL theory fails to recommend strategies for handling this disturbance.
Shared vs. Distributed Leadership Characteristics and Differences
The shared and distributed dimensions of leadership differ in some respects. Firstly, SL begins with the selected leader before flowing to other team members in the leadership domain (Dust & Ziegert 2016). Secondly, individuals lead themselves and follow others through reciprocal leadership. Thirdly, cognitive activity is restricted to the group members and, thus, excludes the leadership situation. Lastly, synergistic advantage emanates from multiple leaders’ aggregated or collective influence (Dust & Ziegert 2016). Hence, the strength of SL lies in combining each team member’s leadership contributions.
Conversely, in the distributed form, leadership rarely ensues from a single individual. Instead, both nominated leaders and their team members conjointly initiate leadership (Northouse 2018). The authors add that the relationships between followers, leaders, and
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