The future of leadership: Combining vertical and shared leadership to transform knowledge work

Pearce, C. L. (2004). The Future of Leadership: Combining Vertical and Shared Leadership to Transform Knowledge Work. Academy of Management Executive , 18 (1), 47-57.

The difficulty for a single person to be an expert on all aspects of the work that needs to be done means that knowledge work is increasingly team-based. The changing environment needs adaptations:

  • More flexible workforce
  • Reduction in organizational response time
  • Full utilization of organizational knowledge

Which brings the need to question traditional models of leadership.

Vertical leadership must be used in conjunction with shared leadership.

Shared leadership
When all members of a team are fully engaged in the leadership of the team and are not hesitant to influence and guide their fellow team members in an effort to maximize the potential of the team as a whole.

Entails a simultaneous, ongoing, mutual influence process within a team that is characterized by “serial emergence” of official as well as unofficial leaders.

It is a manifestation of fully developed empowerment in teams.

When is leadership most appropriately shared?


Teams outperform individuals when the tasks of the individuals are highly integrated and interconnected.

Introduction of a new model (car industry) requires extensive coordination and integration while managing the introduction of running changes requires considerably less integration.


Generally requires input from multiple individuals.

Published articles often have more than one author.


The more complex the task, the less likely an individual will possess all the necessary expertise.

How to develop shared leadership

Roles of the vertical leader

Team design

Team design has been inextricably linked to long-term success.

Roles of the team leader:

  • Collaborating with key constituents to clarify task specifications
  • Securing necessary resources
  • Identifying team-member roles
  • Officially launching, or relaunching, the team
  • Articulate the vision of the team’s overall purpose
  • Articulate how the team will approach its task and function as a team
  • Articulate trust and confidence in the team

The leader’s decisions and expectations will contribute to the development of shared leadership.

The smallest possible team will have fewer dysfunctions.

Boundary management

The team leader must facilitate relations with the outside constituents and secure resources.

Organizational systems that facilitate the development of shared leadership

Training and development systems

Satisfaction with leadership is the second most dissatisfying aspect of many employees’ organizational lives.

Formal leaders may need training to face their perceived loss of control.

As an organization moves toward shared leadership, training and development needs increase exponentially.

The team members need training too; that it’s not just business as usual.

  • Training on how to engage in responsible and constructive leadership: types of influence and their possible reactions
  • Training on how to receive influence
  • Training in basic teamwork skills

Experiential development exercises are particularly fruitful.

Ongoing development may be achieved by using skilled facilitators periodically to diagnose the team and make targeted recommendations for improvement.

Training and development must be taken quite seriously.

Reward systems

People engage in behaviors they perceive as being reward-worthy.

Reward systems are often out of sync with the strategic vision.

Formal reward system often discourage the switch to team based, shared leadership.

It is naive to assume that simply switching to a team-based reward system will fix all woes. Free riders are to be expected if individual performance is not considered. It also ignores the issue of careers and promotions.

360 feedback may be a useful tool, not only for enhancing performance, but for determining individual-based rewards and promotion candidates.

Cultural systems

A powerful and often unconscious effect on individuals.

Trust, from the top down, is essential.

Integrated and aligned system that support the development of shared leadership and communicate its importance.

Top leaders must be role models

Employee selection, especially those in leadership positions, is crucial.

How can shared and vertical leadership share the stage?

Vertical and shared leadership behaviors and team outcomes

The agents and targets of influence are often peers.


Providing task-focused direction or recommendations

Provides a much-needed structure for unstructured tasks.

Junior members may appreciate directive leadership from more senior members.

Task conflict, highly related to shared directive leadership, has been positively linked to the performance of a wide variety of knowledge worker teams.


Influencing followers by strategically supplying rewards contingent on follower performance

Shared transactional leadership may be expressed through collegial praise for contributions.

Valued assignments may be awarded based on individual- or team-level attainment of milestones, quality targets, or other key performance metrics.

Team performance-based rewards are considered.


Adopts a more symbolic emphasis on commitment to a team vision, emotional engagement, and fulfillment of higher-order needs such as meaningful professional impact or desires to engage in breakthrough achievements.

The vertical leader’s task is clarifying the vision for the team. Knowledge worker teams might engaged in shared transformational leadership through peer exhortation or by appealing to collegial desires to design groundbreaking products, launch an exciting new venture, or outmaneuver the competition to capture the most market share.

Particularly effective because it depends on significant, and necessarily voluntary, intellectual contributions of highly skilled professionals.

Intellectual stimulation itself may promote effective performance.

The creation of a shared vision is an especially important manifestation of shared leadership.


Emphasizes self-influence rather than top-down control. Epitomizes the role of the designated vertical leader under conditions of team-shared leadership.

Playing the cheerleader is often the role of the vertical leader.

Specific roles for vertical leaders in the ongoing development of shared leadership

Shared leadership support

Judicious intervention on an as-needed basis.

When vertical leaders routinely exercise power or step too firmly in the decision making process, team-member withdrawal, dissatisfaction, and abdication of decision-making responsibility tend to follow.

A balance must be reached.

Shared leadership maintenance

Requires active encouragement of lateral peer influence among the team members and encouragement of upward influence from the team members to the designated team leader.

The vertical leader can articulate an emphasis on follower self-leadership, lateral influence and upward influence.

Being a role model and finding a way to train the members in appropriate leadership skills on an as-needed basis.

Being an empowering leader to demonstrate trust and confidence and let them unleash their leadership potential.

The Future of Leadership

Shared leadership is not a panacea.

Team leaders and members resistance can reduce the positive effects considerably.

In the long run, the organization must cull leaders that are unable or unwilling to let go of some of their formal power.

Renegade teams may work at odds with overarching organizational goals.

The issue is not a replacement of vertical leadership by shared leadership, but:

  1. When is leadership most appropriately shared
  2. How does one develop shared leadership
  3. How does one utilize both vertical and shared leadership to leverage the capabilities of knowledge workers
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