Shared leadership in teams: an investigation of antecedent conditions and performance

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.

Leadership is considered crucial for enabling team effectiveness (Cohen & Bailey, 1997; Hackman& Walton, 1986; Kozlowski, Gully, Salas, & Cannon-Bowers, 1996), and some researchers haveeven argued that it is the most critical ingredient (Sinclair, 1992; Zaccaro, Rittman, & Marks, 2001).

Yet most existing research on team leadership has focused narrowly on the influence of an individual team leader (usually a manager external to a team),thus largely neglecting leadership provided by team members (Kozlowski & Bell, 2003; Stewart &Manz, 1995).
First, the complexity and ambiguity that teams often experience make it unlikely that a single external leader can successfully perform all necessary leadership functions (Day, Gronn, & Salas, 2004).

Further, flatter organizational structures and the pervasive presence of self-managing teams, which are now well established and deeply rooted in U.S. industry (Lawler, Mohrman, & Benson, 2001; Manz & Sims, 1987), emphasize the need for leadership originating from within a team as opposed to that originating from a single individual elevated by hierarchy.

Gibb, the first to so argue, stated, “Leadership is probably best conceived as a group quality, as a set of functions which must be carried out by the group. This concept of ‘distributed leadership’ is an important one” (1954: 884).

Katz and Kahn (1978) also suggested that when team members voluntarily and spontaneously offer their influence to others in support of shared goals, shared leadership can provide organizations with competitive advantage through increases in commitment, in the personal and organizational resources brought to bear on complex tasks, in openness to reciprocal influence from others, and in the sharing of information.

We define shared leadership as an emergent team property that results from the distribution of leadership influence across multiple team members.

It represents a condition of mutual influence embedded in the interactions among team members that can significantly improve team and organizational performance (Day et al., 2004).

Shared leadership contrasts with the conventional paradigm (referred to as “vertical leadership” by Pearce and Sims [2002]), which emphasizes the role of the manager who is positioned hierarchically above and external to a team, has formal authority over the team, and is responsible for the team’s processes and outcomes (e.g., Druskat & Wheeler, 2003; Hackman & Walton, 1986; Kozlowski et al., 1996).

Reflecting a perspective on leadership in teams as a dynamic process involving interactions between team members and external team leaders (cf. Kozlowski et al., 1996; Zaccaro & Klimoski, 2002).

Scholars have called for more attention to theoretical models of team leadership that are developed at the team level rather than as mere extrapolations of existing dyadic leadership approaches (Kozlowski & Bell, 2003).

Gibb (1954) first suggested the idea of two forms of team leadership: distributed and focused. Focused leadership occurs when leadership resides within a single individual, whereas distributed leadership occurs when two or more individuals share the roles, responsibilities, and functions of leadership.

Gronn (2002) argued that these two concepts of focused and distributed leadership be considered endpoints on a continuum rather than rigid either-or categories.

Yukl’s definition of leadership as “influence processes involving determination of the group’s or organization’s objectives, motivating task behavior in pursuit of these objectives, and influencing group maintenance and culture” (1989: 5).

We define shared leadership as an emergent team property that results from the distribution of leadership influence across multiple team members.

In keeping with the notion of collective constructs (Morgeson & Hofmann, 1999), we argue that shared leadership originates with individual members of a team engaging in activities that influence the team and other team members in areas related to direction, motivation, and support (Yukl, 1989) and through the series of interactions that team members have with each other involving the negotiation and sharing of leadership responsibilities.

Our definition is focused on multiple sources of influence and refers to widespread influence within teams rather than to specific leadership behaviors, formal positions, specific types of influence, or the effectiveness of the leadership exhibited by these sources.

Avolio, Jung, Murry, and Sivasubramanium (1996)

  • Definition: No explicit definition given, but shared leadership is essentially viewed as transformational leadership manifested at the group level in highly developed teams.
  • Measure: Team Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (TMLQ _ Form 5X) aggregated to the team level
  • Dependent Variable: Self-reported ratings (undergraduate project team effectiveness)

Pearce and Sims (2002)

  • Definition: Distributed influence from within the team (p. 172). Lateral influence among peers (p. 176).
  • Measure: Ratings (aggregated to team level) on behavioral scales for five leadership strategies: aversive, directive, transactional, transformational, and empowering
  • Dependent Variable: Self-reported and manager ratings of seven effectiveness dimensions (automobile change management teams)

Sivasubramanium, Murry, Avolio, and Jung (2002)

  • Definition: Collective influence of members in a team on each other (p. 68). How members of a group evaluate the influence of the group as opposed to one individual within or external to the group (p. 68).
  • Measure: Team Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (TMLQ _ Form 5X) aggregated to the team level
  • Dependent Variable: Team potency (self-ratings at times 1 and 2) and team grades assigned by instructor (undergraduate project team effectiveness).

Pearce and Conger (2003)

  • Definition: A dynamic, interactive influence process among individuals in groups for which the objective is to lead one another to the achievement of group or organizational goals or both… [L]eadership is broadly   distributed among a set of individuals instead of centralized in [the] hands of a single individual who acts in the role of a superior (p. 1).

Pearce, Yoo, and Alavi (2004)

  • Definition: Simultaneous, ongoing, mutual influence process within a team that is characterized by “serial emergence” of official as well as unofficial leaders (p. 48).
  • Measure: Ratings (aggregated to team level) on behavioral scales for four leadership strategies: directive, transactional, transformational, and empowering
  • Dependent Variable: Self-ratings of problem-solving quality and effectiveness (virtual teams of student social workers)

Ensley, Hmieleski, and Pearce (2006)

  • Definition: Team process where leadership is carried out by the team as a whole, rather than solely by a single designated individual (p. 220).
  • Measure: Ratings (aggregated to team level) on behavioral scales for four leadership strategies: directive, transactional, transformational, and empowering
  • Dependent Variable: Growth index for new ventures, consisting of the average of firm revenue growth and employee growth rates (new venture TMTs)

Mehra, Smith, Dixon, and Robertson (2006)

  • Definition: Shared, distributed phenomenon in which there can be several (formally appointed and/or emergent) leaders (p. 233).
  • Measure: Qualitative coding based on visual analysis of leadership network diagrams
  • Dependent Variable: Team sales divided by team size (financial services sales teams)

Emergent leadership

emergent leadership refers to group members exerting significant influence over other members of their group although no formal authority has been vested in them (Schneier & Goktepe, 1983). However, emergent leadership research differs by focusing on the characteristics of individuals and groups that predict informal leadership emergence, as well as narrowly considering only one or two persons as emergent leaders and ignoring the leadership influence of others. In sum, shared leadership is distinct from emergent leadership in that the former can take place in a team with or without a designated leader, can be either formal or informal, and addresses the distribution and sharing of leadership among all team members, in contrast to only one or two leaders.


Researchers studying shared leadership have argued that for shared leadership to emerge, two sets of activities must occur (Katz & Kahn, 1978). First, the members of a team must offer leadership and seek to influence the direction, motivation, and support of the group. Second, the team as a whole must be willing to rely on leadership by multiple team members.

The first condition is an internal team environment that supports the development of shared leadership over time, and the second is the level of supportive coaching provided by an external leader.

Coaching by an external leader, especially if the internal support of the team is weak (p. 1228).

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