Insights from Newly Released Special Issue of The Leadership Quarterly
Leadership is often thought of as a singular individual, with formal authority, standing up and motivating employees, teams, etc. onto great success.
This notion of leadership is changing.
Many organizations are flat, or even seemingly leaderless, yet they still progress toward a united goal. How does this change the meaning of leadership and the role of leader?
Leadership – Working in Concert
Current theory is defining leadership less as an individual’s ability and more as a force that creates direction, aligns efforts, and creates commitment. With this definition, leadership is created by a collective of individuals working in concert to advance an organization’s goals. How this occurs could take varying forms.
Some have described leadership as an orchestra where the formal leader (conductor) still plays a major role, but other musicians listen to each other adjusting their playing and following each other’s lead.
Another is a flock of birds, rotating leadership. There is no single long-term leader, rather different birds shifting into and out of the lead role and all the birds adjusting their flight patterns in response to each other.
In any case, many individuals with both formal and informal authority act as leaders and the outcomes of leadership (direction, alignment, and commitment) are created in the interactions between people. From this view, leadership is a social process that occurs within a collective (e.g., team, department, organization) and through relationships between people. These relationships form a leadership network that emerges and shifts over time.
Advancing Theory & Gaining Evidence
Thinking about leadership in this way — as a property of the collective as opposed to a few select individuals — represents a paradigm shift within the field of leadership.
Recent academic reviews, as well as a small conference hosted by CCL in 2014, have noted that leadership scholars have made substantial advancements in theory regarding how collectives engage in leadership, but empirical tests of theory lag behind.
This was the impetus for a special issue (published last month, April 2016) in The Leadership Quarterly on Collective and Network Approaches to Leadership that Francis Yammarino (Binghamton University) and I were privileged to edit.
With this special issue we sought to:
- Spur research examining the formal and informal leadership processes occurring within collectives, networks, and systems.
- Expose readers to a variety of theoretical and methodological approaches for studying network and collective approaches to leadership.
- Increase knowledge sharing among groups of researchers working independently from their own theoretical and methodological orientations.
- Provide guidance from these studies for practice.
Leadership Network Articles
The special issue consists of our introduction and 9 excellent articles that provide insight into the emergence of collective and shared leadership in various forms and the role of formal leaders in collectivistic forms of leadership.
You can learn more about this research by reading the abstracts and full articles.
- Collective and Network Approaches to Leadership: Special Issue Introduction by Kristin L. Cullen-Lester (CCL) and Francis J. Yammarino (Binghamton University)
- Exploring Antecedents and Outcomes of Shared Leadership in a Creative Context: A Mixed-Methods Approach by Andra Serban (University of Warwick) and Ashley Roberts (Binghamton University) – Virtual teams benefit more from shared leadership than face-to-face teams.
- Shared Leadership and Commonality: A Policy-Capturing Study by Gesche Drescher (Technische Universität München) and Yvonne Garbers (Kiel University) – A positive relationship exists between individual and collective intelligence as well as collective intelligence and collective decision quality.
- Collective Decision Making, Leadership, and Collective Intelligence: Tests with Agent-Based Simulations and a Field Study by Kristie A. McHugh (Ohio Northern University), Francis J. Yammarino (Binghamton University), Shelley D. Dionne (Binghamton University), Andra Serban (University of Warwick), Hiroki Sayama (Binghamton University), and Subimal Chatterjee (Binghamton University) – Identify team and task antecedents and outcomes of shared leadership.
- Informal Leadership, Interaction, Cliques and Productive Capacity in Organizations: A Collectivist Analysis by Russ Marion (Clemson University), Jon Christiansen (Sparks Research & Clemson University), Hans Klar (Clemson University), Craig Schreiber (Lenoir-Rhyne University), and Akif Erdener (Balikesir University) – Systems achieve environmentally stable states in the face of internal and environmental volatility by ensuring high levels of information exchange. Informal leaders move information through the network and cliques process the information.
- Flock Leadership: Understanding and Influencing Emergent Collective Behavior by Thomas E. Will (Agnes Scott College) – There are several behavioral norms within collectives that are needed to achieve both technical and adaptive capacity.
- Pluralized Leadership in Complex Organizations: Exploring the Cross Network Effects Between Leadership Influence and Informal Network Relations by Leroy White (University of Warwick), Andy Lockett (University of Warwick), and Graeme Currie (University of Warwick) – Formal influence co-occurs with advice seeking, suggesting a channeling of informal leadership and that leadership may be embedded in multiple forms of network relations.
- Predicting Leadership Relationships: The Importance of Collective Identity by Donna Chrobot-Mason (University of Cincinnati), Alexandra Gerbasi (Grenoble Ecole de Management), and Kristin L. Cullen-Lester (CCL) – Individuals who identified with the organization were more likely to grant and be granted leadership by others.
- Collective Leadership Behaviors: Evaluating the Leader, Team Network, and Problem Situation Characteristics that influence Their Use by Tamara L. Friedrich (University of Warwick), Jennifer A. Griffith (Alfred University), and Michael D. Mumford (University of Oklahoma) – Individuals differ in their use of collective leadership behaviors depending on cognitive ability and prior experience.
- Vertical Flow of Collectivistic Leadership: An Examination of the Cascade of Visionary Leadership Across Levels by Jaclyn Margolis (Pepperdine University) and Jonathan Ziegert (Drexel University) – Collective leadership practices cascade down organizational levels to lower-level teams through formal leaders’ own experiences with collective leadership, job satisfaction, and empowering behaviors.
Both the conference and the special issue were spawned with the idea of advancing research. The conference brought together scholars to figure out why empirical research was being stalled and the special issue created a concentrated outlet for a diversity of research in this space.
These efforts have helped to push the field of leadership research to examine forms of leadership needed in contemporary organizations, which are relying less on hierarchies and heroic leaders.