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What is Distributed Leadership? Everything You Need to Know

What is Distributed Leadership? In short, It is a method of knowing leadership placement policy. It is primarily involved with the work of leadership, rather than specific leadership positions or responsibilities.

Table of Contents

What is Distributed Leadership?

So, what is Distributed Leadership? As we mentioned above, Distributed Leadership is a method to knowing how leadership takes place, especially among the people and the organisation. This method is conceptual and systematic.  People and the organisation apply this to domains, including trade and even tourism.

2 people helping another 1 climb a mountain peak

However, it has advanced a lot and people used it in educational analysis. Yet, it doesn’t concentrate on aspects of the individual leader. Nor on the features of the situation. Instead, it foregrounds how participants involve in the tasks of an organisation.

Understanding distributed leadership means seeing leadership activities as an established and social process. Equally, at the intersection of leaders, followers, and situations.

Distributed leadership aims to enhance leadership potential.  Especially within an organisation so that the organisation can develop and grow. They grow without any tricks or game-playing. It allows a company to become a more efficient. As a result, leaders within it pull in the same direction. And the same vision and values towards a standard set of goals to guide them.

In short, distributed leadership is giving leaders in company ownership by empowering them to lead their teams. And also to drive forward their strategies that provide towards the whole-company preferences.

What were the Early Years of Distributed Leadership like?

Distributed leadership developed in the early 2000s. It evolved from theories like- 

  • Sociological
  • Psychological
  • Cognitive
  • Anthropological theories.

Man climbing a flight of stair

Actually, distributed knowledge and activity theory is a result of Wenger’s communities of practice. First, it was an analytical and theoretical structure for school leadership. Back then, it would direct on how leadership was established in schools. And how it developed across the situational and social circumstances.

Much of the task is done in institutional research. And, they focused on the administrator mainly. Besides, reports were written of what was being done, but not how. Thus, it restricted transferability across contexts.

From this analysis, it was not clear how administrators reacted to the difficult circumstances in schools. Yet, some investigation on leadership has remained to focus on the role. Or the purpose of the assigned administrator. Such as 

  • Instructional leadership or 
  • Transformational leadership. 

There has also been a notable shift to accepting leadership as a shared effort by more than one person.

The current setup looks more broadly at several positions. It provides forms of leadership throughout the school. Including

  • Democratic leadership
  • Teacher leadership
  • Shared leadership
  • Collaborative leadership

Distributed leadership draws on these multi-agent aspects. For example, to explain how performers work to secure the conditions. Especially for advancing teaching and learning in schools.

In other words, distributed leadership is not an action, instead of a method.

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What are the Benefits of Distributed Leadership?

What are the Benefits of Distributed Leadership

It is impossible for one person to have the necessary knowledge, time and skills to manage every phase of the organisation.  Especially as an organisation becomes more complex.  Thus, distributing leadership throughout the organisation may:

  • Boost employee commitment and engagement. Due to understanding of collective liability for the organisation’s progress
  • Promote co-operative ideas and help produce new solutions to old obstacles
  • Support more efficient and conscious decision-making
  • Assist in developing a higher sense of openness and belief in the organisation
  • Help succession planning outlining. So that it can help organisations to recognise and sustain leadership potential. 
  • Inspire more high-grade teamwork at all levels of the organisation
  • Give people a more resilient and versatile approach to work
  • Enhance knowledge-sharing and learning. It can be inside and beyond departments as different groups of people work together. 

Distributed Leadership database graph

Source: Scopus database

What is the Theory of Distributed Leadership?

Only knowing what is distributed leadership is not enough. To fully understand, one must know its theory as well. 

Theory of Distributed Leadership

Leadership is often considered as something that is acted out or done by an individual to influence others. Social or shared leadership often still sees leadership as activities done by individuals. Yet, with the cooperation with others. Taking a distributed perspective, leadership is a rising resource of the system. It sits between-

  • who consider leadership as a result of personal agency and
  • who view it as a consequence of the circumstances.

Activity Theory of Distributed Leadership

Activity theory is a comprehensive social science strategy. Thus, it helps us to understand individual behaviour as contextualised in a circumstance. This established viewpoint increases the unit of analysis to the collective rather than individual, and analyses the connection between actions.

Activity Theory of Distributed Leadership

Although this proposal aims to learn the individual, the unit of analysis is the more extensive system. For instance, in which that individual participates. 

Engestrom recognises three ages of activity theory and associated researcher:

  • First-generation (1978). A model concentrated on the individual (subject-object-mediating artefact) by Lev Vygotsky.
  • Second generation (1981). The extension of the model to add collective action, by Alexei Leont’ev.
  • Third generation (1987). A networked knowledge of interactive activity systems, proposed by Engestrom himself.

Barbara Rogoff, another Activity Theory scholar, develops this work in two ways:

  • First- foregrounding of the individual. Dropping sight of the relationship of the system is not acceptable.
  • Second- there are three different levels of resolutions-

            1. Interpersonal level

            2. Cultural/community and

            3. Institutional/cultural planes

These are required to read the different level’s activity. An assigned leader takes this networked and multi-level approach to give “Context of Action”. And manage the stress between agency and distribution.

Spillane and Gronn both bring on the use of activity theory in the field of a leadership analysis. As a result, it spread out of Mintzberg’s studies of work activity. Besides witnessing managers through structured observations to document what they do. The nature of this documentation was innovative and exciting. 

However, it was eventually considered shallow. As it did not distinguish between managerial and non-managerial tasks. There were still unsettled questions. Questions about how management acted, and it did not show leadership effectiveness.

What is Distributed Leadership Viewpoint?

Now you may be wondering what Distributed Leadership viewpoint is? Well, in brief, it is to look at leadership activity as a situated and social process. As well as drawing on distributed cognition and activity theory.

Distributed Leadership Viewpoint

Distributed Cognition lies at the intersection of sociology, psychology, and cognitive science. Thus, it is the theory that is spread across the situation, tools, context, and other people. It was introduced with the work of anthropologist Edwin Hutchins in the 1990s. With his navigation on a naval aircraft carrier studies.

His work on learning established cognition. He pointed to the resolution that cognition is distributed socially. Rather than looking for knowledge structures within an individual. His work showed us that cognitive activity or knowing what to do was a fixed method influenced by- tools, situations and other people.

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Final Thought

We hope you have the overall idea about ‘what is distributed leadership’. In order to run big companies, distributed leadership is very helpful. Distributed leadership helps establish a hierarchy in a workplace, which in turn helps to do work systematically and efficiently. To refine your leadership skills and learn more about distributed leadership take our Certificate in Leadership Course.

Certificate in Leadership
Do you want to be a leader? Want to learn the key techniques of good leadership? Then this Certificate in Leadership course is perfect for you.
Certificate in Leadership
Do you want to be a leader? Want to learn the key techniques of good leadership? Then this Certificate in Leadership course is perfect for you.
January 14, 2022

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