Shared leadership at the workplace

A win-win for the team and the leader


Employees in Flanders are experiencing work-related stress, and an increasing number of them are becoming burnt out. Leadership appears to be a crucial factor in improving the well-being of employees, extending beyond the formal leader. Our previous research demonstrated that the quality of leadership within the team is positively correlated with various outcomes including team effectiveness, as well as team members’ job satisfaction and health. To enhance both the well-being and effectiveness of employees, it is thus essential to optimize the leadership structure within their teams, strengthening both the formal leader and the peer leaders within the team.

Up to now, research on the effectiveness of shared leadership has been somewhat fragmented. While many studies show positive effects of shared leadership, some also indicate drawbacks. One possible reason for these contrasting findings is that shared leadership can be implemented in various ways, with varying degrees of success, and this is often not taken into account.

However, what remained unknown were the advantages and disadvantages of these different implementations of shared leadership. This information is crucial for the effective implementation of shared leadership in practice. By understanding the benefits and challenges of the different approaches, organizations can better prepare for practical implementation and align their leadership programs accordingly.

Our research

To address this gap, our research delved deeper into the advantages and disadvantages of three different implementations of shared leadership in organizational teams, namely:

  • Peer leaders can be formally appointed, or they can naturally and spontaneously emerge within the team.
  • Leadership can be fulfilled by a single peer leader or shared among multiple peer leaders.
  • Regarding specific leadership roles, these can either be carried out by a single peer leader or shared among multiple peer leaders.

 We interviewed 35 employees from various Belgian organizations, including both formal leaders and team members. Each participant shared their thoughts on the pros and cons of these different approaches.

The results

The most important results that emerged from our data analyses were the following:

First, most participants (74%) believed that shared leadership works best when distributed across the team, rather than having just one peer leader.

Second, the majority of participants (57%) felt that specific leadership roles are better fulfilled by multiple peer leaders, rather than having only one peer leader per role (e.g., having two or more task leaders instead of just one task leader).

Third, participants emphasized the importance of involving the formal leader in the process; otherwise, formal leaders might fear losing control or their status, leading to negative feelings that can disrupt shared leadership. Previous research, in fact, indicated that this fear is unfounded and that formal leaders with stronger peer leaders within their team are also perceived as better leaders themselves.

Regarding the selection of peer leaders, the majority of participants felt that the formal leader should be involved, preferably through an anonymous assessment or an open group discussion.


In summary, each way of implementing shared leadership has its own pros and cons (for specific details, check Tables 2, 3, and 4 in our article). Being aware of these aspects is important, as they can either improve or impair the effectiveness of shared leadership. With these insights, teams can make informed decisions when choosing a specific approach and better prepare for potential obstacles on their journey to shared leadership.

The insights from this research not only contribute to the theory of shared leadership but also provide practical tips that organizations can use to successfully implement shared leadership. Based on the feedback from our participating employees, we have four suggestions to address potential challenges when implementing shared leadership:

  • Involve the formal leader in all stages of implementation.
  • Adopt a transparent process when selecting peer leaders.
  • Clearly define the different leadership roles to ensure that everyone knows their responsibilities, including the peer leaders themselves, other team members, and the formal leader.
  • Have multiple peer leaders taking on leadership (roles) instead of relying on just one peer leader.

These principles are central to how we shape the analysis of leadership structures and our leadership programs within organizations.

The scientific article on this research project has been published, and you can read it in full via the link below.