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Business Skills

What is Distributed Leadership? Importance of Distributed Leadership


Lead Academy

9 Mins Read

Most of the organisations for generations and still today rely on traditional hierarchies. The system has been such that, a chain of command in which only those at the top are supposed to make decisions. This type of leadership approach remains confined to only those in positions of authority. This is also a willful ignorance of the leadership talent and capability of many others.  That is why many institutions are now choosing to buck this trend by incorporating distributed leadership.

As Forbes claims, “The world in the post-pandemic era will have a different modus operandi. Leadership in the future of work will also be distributed in nature, as the responsibilities and accountability associated with a task are shared by leaders with the associated skills and domain expertise.”

Distributed leadership fosters the distribution of responsibility between individuals within an organisation based on expertise rather than on experience within a role. Though mostly used in an educational environment previously, it’s now widely adopted by corporate settings as well.

What is Distributed Leadership?

Employees working in a distributed leadership setup

Distributed leadership is shared leadership or management. It focuses on collective and extended leadership rather than specific leadership roles and responsibilities. Though distributed leadership was primarily developed and used in education research, it is now applied to other domains as well including business and even tourism.

What are the Principles of Distributed Leadership?

Distributed leadership follows a handful of core principles which are as follows-

  • Distributed leadership recognises that authority does not rest with one key individual.
  • Instead, it relies upon a group approach to overall strategy and goals and encourages pluralistic engagement. It also creates a breeding ground for new leaders.
  • The leaders must be given at least a certain level of autonomy within their field of responsibility.
  • If the new  leaders have autonomy, they are understood to have accountability for their actions, and also their results.

Besides, check our other blog, “How Many Steps are There to a Risk Assessment?

What are the Advantages of Distributed Leadership?

Four professionals in a meeting demonstrating mutual understanding

Distributed leadership gives employees the autonomy to achieve their goals, without waiting for authorisation. This can result in the following benefits-

Improves the Quality of Work:

When power is evenly distributed, there is hardly any politics and decisions can be made without having to wait for approval from the top. As a result, tasks are completed within time and faster.

Increase Productivity:

Giving employees full independence over their work nurtures trust which in turn encourages commitment, development and a general improvement in quality.

Increases Creativity:

Just like increased productivity, distributed leadership also grants more opportunities for creativity and collaboration. Employees are more likely to interact with their colleagues, share experience and knowledge, and benefit from a stronger connection.

Provides Opportunity for Mutual Learning:

When there is shared leadership found throughout an organisation, it gives each person a chance to expand their own horizons. Instead of feeling like one small team or an individual is superior to everyone, employees feel like there is a level of equality that encourages discussion and as such, they share their relevant knowledge, which helps to create stronger bonds.

Gives everyone a Chance to Serve

When distributed leadership is initiated, anyone can be a leader within the company, even an entry-level manager. This gives everyone a chance to serve and get a taste of corporate leadership.

How to Implement Distributed Leadership?

Implementing distributed leadership might not be possible overnight if your organisation adheres to a command and control model; it will take time to shift the culture. Here are some suggestions provided that you can follow for your organisation.

Learn to trust

Distributed or collaborative leadership brings a fundamental shift in the way an organisation does business. Those in leadership positions need to shift from a command and control methodology to a sharing decision-making policy.

This can be challenging at the beginning. However, you’ll need to trust that others in the organisation will pick up where you left off. The best way to achieve this is to clarify the desired outcomes to your team. This will let other team members contribute toward the shared company vision when decisions are made.

Adopt a team hiring approach

Apply a team hiring strategy when incorporating a new employee or co-worker.  A team-based approach to hiring can be one of the essential steps to success.

The new hires won’t be accustomed to the collaborative process of working. Therefore, it is vital to train them. The process should educate newly hired team members on how distributed leadership works.

Allow others to lead

In a centralised management environment, it’s natural for senior leaders to step up and lead. But, within a distributed leadership model, the opposite is true. In such an environment, you should seek to create new opportunities for others to gain critical leadership skills.

For example, it could mean letting junior workers conduct meetings. This will allow them to take the responsibility of leadership. Keep in mind that the first few times others conduct these meetings, they might not be able to perform according to your expectations. But, that should not discourage you. With time, it will also prove to be beneficial.

Check our other blog, “What is the Purpose of a Risk Assessment?

Why is Distributed Leadership Popular in Schools?

Educational institutions prefer shared leadership like schools because it decentralises power. Distributing responsibilities among co-teachers relieves a load of administrative duties while providing constant leadership development for educators.

When leadership is not distributed in a school, the principal takes all the decisions right from curriculum to budget allocations. The whole team then becomes reliant on a single person. That is why educational sectors go for distributed leadership so that all the responsibilities are not single-handedly managed by the senior leader only.

If distributed leadership is established, it encourages all teacher leaders to collaborate. This brings a shared perspective to decision-making. Empowering all teachers leads to a strengthened leadership capacity and fosters a school community of support and appreciation.

Strategies for Distributed Leadership in Schools:

You can follow the strategies below to implement distributed leadership in your school.

1) Allocate leadership responsibilities:

Every faculty member should get a chance to set agendas and take responsibility for a conversation they are leading. Taking ownership is an essential leadership skill to master. Faculties can either participate in facilitating a school-wide meeting or while setting up budgets for departments.

2) Hire well:

For creating a team-based environment, the hiring process should be transparent and there shouldn’t be any shortcuts to the hiring process. You should involve yourself during this time to ensure that the new hire has the same level of commitment and goals you are trying to encompass.

3) Do not delegate:

Distributed leadership is not only about delegating tasks; it’s about empowering others to act as true leaders. As a leader, you should trust other teachers and let them take on some responsibilities.

According to Harvard Business Review, “Distributed leadership is more than delegation. It has to do with a team sharing a sense of purpose and responsibility for the overall leadership of the company. Different people may spearhead different aspects of the team’s work, but everyone is in charge, always.”

4) Provide feedback:

Allow teachers to improve their teaching and leadership techniques by providing them hands-on, day-to-day coaching and support. Giving feedback will help teachers develop their skills and let them understand where they need to improve.

Things to Keep in Mind for Successful Distributed Leadership Approach:

Working in a distributed leadership setting can be challenging. To help overcome the complications that this type of distributed team structure can bring, you should keep in mind some elements, which are as follows-


This is one of the most important aspects if you want to work successfully as a team. Clear and fluid communication creates a healthy and productive working environment. Within it, new and better ideas appear, people can express what they’re thinking, strengthening interpersonal relationships.

If you physically dislocate yourself from the rest of your team or leaders, you’ll probably miss out on the daily debates that can lead to spontaneous changes at work. To achieve good communication with the rest of your team and to remain consistent, you must frequently converse with your co-workers and try to get to know everyone you work with.

Mutual Trust

Trust within the team is what makes day-to-day work more pleasant. With trust, you can build a bond and an environment where you can express and share your ideas with other team leaders. This will lead to higher quality work and better results.


Often, people on a distributed team can feel lonely, distracted and apathetic. When colleagues don’t support people, there is a heightened risk that work can feel meaningless. That’s why motivation is one of the most important factors when it comes to working in a distributed leadership setting.

To keep motivation high, everyone needs to stay active and updated with the latest news at work, be involved in the decision-making process and know that they have the power to take the initiative. This helps everyone to stay engaged and not isolated within their own work.


This is an essential element in any work environment. You should be mindful that how you’re expressing yourself can affect others and produce misunderstandings. That is why try to avoid any negative communication. It’s hard to find fast personal success if you’re only thinking about yourself. But, when everyone becomes united and committed to working for a shared goal, that is when success comes in.


Individual leadership can create a situation where the leader does excess work, becomes less confident about the outcomes, and this eventually leads to a distrustful working environment. But, when you are using a distributed leadership style, you are working to push the employees deeper into the organisation, which in return, creates a healthy and inspiring working environment.

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