The Benefits of “Sharedness” in Leadership


Summary. Shared leadership as part of modern transformational leadership style has proven to favorably influence team effectiveness and the achievement of an organizational balance between opportunity-seeking and advantage-seeking innovation, which positively impacts company performance. Mastery goal orientation (i.e., learning and development) rather than performance goal orientation (i.e., competition and social comparison) results in better group performance as required to solve complex problems. Therefore, questioning hierarchy and leadership is critically important to improve teamwork. High professional identification and altruistic and service-oriented goals are necessary for the successful development of collaboration competency and collective leadership.

Shared Consensus in Decision-Making in Animal and Human Studies

Unshared consensus and single leaders were assumed to be the norm in species like macaques and horses. However, studies have found that, in fact, also these animals take decisions based on consensus shared among group members [1]. In human leadership research, shared leadership (including collective and distributed leadership) as part of modern transformational leadership style evidently has a positive effect on team effectiveness [2]. Indirectly through the creation of organizational adaptability that enables finding the balance between opportunity-seeking and advantage-seeking innovation, shared leadership favorably influences company performance [3].

Leadership Style Depending on Relational Trust and Goal Orientation

In healthcare, flat hierarchies and shared decision-making structures that empower leaders on all levels, are suitable strategies to add to patient safety and employee well-being [4]; [5]. Learning is another area for which collaboration is beneficial [6]. Although the most effective way to enhance student achievement is the creation of professional learning communities, many middle schools still focus on managing test scores instead of enabling team learning processes in a collaborative learning environment [7]. Regarding tensions between official functions and citizens, for institutions like police departments, transformational leadership with a shared cooperative vision is imperative [8].

Trust was found to increase the likelihood of collaborative engagement between teachers [9], and to be a success factor for re-culturing schools [10]. Trust seems to be the necessary condition to enable the exchange of knowledge [11]. Shared information and knowledge elaboration allow diverse groups to develop practical solutions to challenging problems [12]. As studies in groups of children showed, leadership styles may depend on whether set goals are related to learning and development (mastery goal orientation) or competition and social comparison (performance goal orientation). Mastery orientation proved to contribute positively to shared responsibility and resulted in better group performance (i.e., solving a complicated math problem) than the performance condition in which lack of communication, member dissonance, and exclusion led to the use of forceful domination instead of cooperative leadership [13].

Challenging Hierarchy and Leadership to Improve Teamwork

Besides individual characteristics such as enthusiasm, vision, and knowledge, organizational culture, political situation, and member composition are influential factors for the development of shared leadership capacity [14]. Questioning hierarchy and leadership to improve teamwork [15] may be necessary but also challenging within traditional settings [16]. Group processes can be problematic for individuals who are used to concentrate high power [17]. Low professional identification as well as weak focus on, for example, patient safety or student success hinders support for shared leadership too [18]. Not insisting in mere self-reliance in information elaboration [12] and valuing altruism and service towards others are critically important for the successful development of collaboration competency and collective leadership [19].


[1] Bourjade, M., & Sueur, C. (2010). Shared or unshared consensus for collective movement? Towards methodological concerns. Behavioural Processes, 84(3), 648-652. doi:10.1016/j.beproc.2010.02.027

[2] 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. doi:10.1037/a0034531

[3] Volberda, H., Jansen, J., Baagoe-Engels, V., , , , & … Volberda, H. W. (2014). Top Management Team Shared Leadership and Organizational Ambidexterity: a Moderated Mediation Framework. Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal, 8(2), 128-148.

[4] Moore, S. C., & Hutchison, S. A. (2007). Developing leaders at every level: accountability and empowerment actualized through shared governance. The Journal Of Nursing Administration, 37(12), 564-568.

[5] Chen, W., McCollum, M., Bradley, E., & Chen, D. T. (2016). Shared team leadership training through pre-clerkship team-based learning. Medical Education, 50(11), 1148-1149. doi:10.1111/medu.13170

[6] Landini, F., Vargas, G., Bianqui, V., Mathot y Rebolé, M. I., & Martínez, M. (2017). Contributions to group work and to the management of collective processes in extension and rural development. Journal Of Rural Studies, 56143-155. doi:10.1016/j.jrurstud.2017.09.014

[7] Thompson, S. C., & McKelvy, E. (2007). Shared Vision, Team Learning and Professional Learning Communities. National Middle School Association.

[8] Can, S. H., Hendy, H. M., & Can, M. E. (2017). A pilot study to develop the police Transformational Leadership Scale (PTLS) and examine its associations with psychosocial well-being of officers. Journal Of Police And Criminal Psychology, 32(2), 105-113. doi:10.1007/s11896-016-9204-y

[9] Thornton, K., & Cherrington, S. (2014). Leadership in Professional Learning Communities. Australasian Journal Of Early Childhood, 39(3), 94-102.

[10] Olivier, D. F., & Huffman, J. B. (2016). Professional Learning Community Process in the United States: Conceptualization of the Process and District Support for Schools. Asia Pacific Journal Of Education, 36(2), 301-317.

[11] Dearmon, V. A., Riley, B. H., Mestas, L. G., & Buckner, E. B. (2015). Bridge to shared governance: developing leadership of frontline nurses. Nursing Administration Quarterly, 39(1), 69-77. doi:10.1097/NAQ.0000000000000082

[12] Resick, C. J., Murase, T., Randall, K. R., & DeChurch, L. A. (2014). Information elaboration and team performance: Examining the psychological origins and environmental contingencies. Organizational Behavior And Human Decision Processes, 124165-176. doi:10.1016/j.obhdp.2014.03.005

[13] Yamaguchi, R. (2001). Children’s learning groups: A study of emergent leadership, dominance, and group effectiveness. Small Group Research, 32(6), 671-697. doi:10.1177/104649640103200601

[14] Nowell, B., & Harrison, L. M. (2011). Leading change through collaborative partnerships: A profile of leadership and capacity among local public health leaders. Journal Of Prevention & Intervention In The Community, 39(1), 19-34. doi:10.1080/10852352.2011.530162

[15] Van Schaik, S. M., O’Brien, B. C., Almeida, S. A., & Adler, S. R. (2014). Perceptions of interprofessional teamwork in low‐acuity settings: A qualitative analysis. Medical Education, 48(6), 583-592. doi:10.1111/medu.12424

[16] Lingard, L., Vanstone, M., Durrant, M., Fleming-Carroll, B., Lowe, M., Rashotte, J., & … Tallett, S. (2012). Conflicting messages: Examining the dynamics of leadership on interprofessional teams. Academic Medicine, 87(12), 1762-1767. doi:10.1097/ACM.0b013e318271fc82

[17] Hildreth, J. D., & Anderson, C. (2016). Failure at the top: How power undermines collaborative performance. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 110(2), 261-286. doi:10.1037/pspi0000045

[18] Forsyth, C., & Mason, B. (2017). Shared leadership and group identification in healthcare: The leadership beliefs of clinicians working in interprofessional teams. Journal Of Interprofessional Care, 31(3), 291-299. doi:10.1080/13561820.2017.1280005

[19] Brown, S. S., Garber, J. S., Lash, J., & Schnurman-Crook, A. (2014). A proposed interprofessional oath. Journal Of Interprofessional Care, 28(5), 471-472. doi:10.3109/13561820.2014.900480

  • Mathias.Successful communication is vital in your work. I just ran your summary through MS Word and it scored 0 on the Flesch Reading Ease test, and 21.8 on the Flesch – Kincaid Grade Level test. That translates into needing a PhD to understand it. I have been using those scales to help me connect better with my readers. I still lean strongly to precise vocabulary, but sometimes I have to break ideas down and express them several ways with easier language. I hope you will take my comment as an observation and a genuine attempt at useful feedback.

    • I am very thankful for your feedback. You are absolutely right. You help me keep that in mind, and it motivates me to speed up the working over of some of this raw material on my blog and compile it into something more accessible. Let’s say, I’m still more in the research phase (while already sharing summaries of the studies) and hiding behind my everyday-English limitations. I am working on it and hope to publish an easy-to-read collection of the valuable psychological lessons for happy, colorful growth soon. I’ll need a good editing partner:-).

      • Thanks for understanding. You offer powerful ideas to people, thirsty to know new things.

        I just went back and re “follow” ed you. I must have broken something, because I lost some links to other sites I follow. I must have been “sleep posting” one of those nights I stayed up too late. Sorry.

  • On another topic, I am interested in what distinguishes “leadership,” from “management” in your book? The controversy over whether leaders are born or can be made has still not been resolved. Managers can be trained to coordinate teams to achieve results. It seems leaders inspire the team to set their sites on visionary results. This may be a distinction without a difference, but I have attended many “leadership” courses that did not create leaders out of managers.

    This question led me to read your article with interest. I am not exactly sure I have seen any models of this “sharedness” kind of organization, but I can say from my wife’s experience as a nurse, the hierarchical management approach in medicine is alive and well. In fact, it is being sorely tested by the strains on the health-care system generated by the Affordable Care Act.

    • Hi. Great point, thank you! I had a post overdue related to the difference between leadership and management.

      I’d like to demystify leadership insofar that it isn’t something like a super-human capability that only rare individuals are born with. I know that people like this myth, partly because it gives them the possibility to rely on leaders. However, nobody is better suited to lead themselves and therefore by example than each person itself.
      There is successful cooperative governance, especially in co-operative businesses. Any genuinely democratic system’s idea is actually to practice “sharedness” in leadership. We are just trained in believing that in the workplace democracy is not possible. It is a matter of creating the conditions though (i.e., education, policies, etc.). The privileged who currently decide with their (monetary) influence seem to be against sharing more. I hope more people claim their rights for a voice in the future.

      • Let me suggest an experiment: Without prejudice, ask a dozen people this question: “What percent of all the people you know, do you think are leaders?”

        I have asked hundreds of people this question, and I have never gotten an answer above 3%. Why do you think this is so?

        One idea that has come out of this, for me, is the concept of “followship” as an equally valuable aspect. That grew out of the question: “Who are leaders?” Answer: “People with followers.”

      • What an interesting follow-on! Thanks for sharing these insights.

        I would have answered your question with “potentially 100%, in reality, less, too few (10%)).

        According to your argument, we could assume that everybody who has at minimum one follower is a leader. However, I understand that the popular notion of leadership is measured by the numbers of followers, the influence of power, and the amount of money a person attracts. This concept of leadership is reflecting contemporary thinking/system of 1% of people amassing 99% wealth and power. Just because not everybody has gotten the same opportunities, we have come to believe in the division of superiority/inferiority. That way we lose many peoples engagement.

        If we want to improve the situation for more people (which I hope is THE goal of leadership), we should re-define leadership first of all as self-leadership that is demanding and providing cooperation, or find even a new term to reflect the need for everybody to decide their destiny themselves instead of relying on leaders.

  • Hm. I’ve read your article and the comments above. I agree you should transpose a lot of your very interesting articles in’to more ‘easy-to-read-no-need-for-a-dictionary’. Because I think you would reach more people.
    On this topic…I still believe, there do exist people who don’t want to be a ‘leader’, not because they aren’t able to be, but they really just don’t want to be.
    For my understanding….If I take a regular organisation as an example. Let’s say an organisation in the business of cars. Your idea/thought is to have a person who works at the production floor, for instance the person who put all left-side wheels on the car at the same leading level as the person in charge of all employees? Or?