Edelmann, C. M., Boen, F., & Fransen, K. (2020). The power of empowerment: Predictors and benefits of shared leadership in organizations. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 3281. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.582894
The word “leadership” is often associated with the leadership of a CEO or team manager. However, research on leadership in sport teams already taught us that also leaders within the team (i.e., team members who actively take on leadership roles) appear to be an essential link for the optimal functioning of their team. Does this also apply then to teams in organisations?
To bridge the gap between the sport field and the organisational context, we asked 146 Belgian employees from various companies to indicate which colleagues occupied the following four roles in their team and what the quality of their leadership was: the role of task leader (who gives strategic advice), the role of motivational leader (who encourages team members to go the extra mile), the role of social leader (who cares about a good atmosphere within the team and acts as a trust person), and the role of external leader (who represents the team towards the outside world). The first analyses showed that in most teams (83%) the leadership qualities in the workplace are indeed spread across different people instead of being centred in just one person.
In addition, it turned out that the best leaders within the team are characterised by the degree to which they succeed in creating a shared sense of ‘we’ and ‘us’ within their team (also called a shared social identity). As a result of their leadership, colleagues identify more strongly with their team, they find it more important that they belong to their team, and they will also act more in function of the team's interests rather than their own interest. This shared sense of ‘we’ and ‘us’ in turn instigated increased team effectiveness, greater job satisfaction, and reduced burnout.
It is interesting to note that these results did not differ between part-time and full-time employees or between small and large teams. For large teams, shared leadership appears to have an even stronger impact on these outcomes.
Shared leadership and letting go of control can sometimes feel for managers like a leap of faith. Yet, our findings above indicate that good leaders in the team are essential for team effectiveness and the well-being of team members. However, formal leaders may have doubts to start sharing their leadership, perhaps out of fear that this might have a detrimental effect on their own leadership status.
Within this research we examined whether this fear is justified. As it turns out, even the opposite is true. Indeed, our analyses showed that teams with stronger leaders within the team perceived their manager to be a better leader, and this with regard to task, motivational, social and external leadership.
It should therefore come as no surprise that an increasing number of teams want to start implementing a structure of shared leadership. After all, this does not only benefit the team’s effectiveness and the well-being of the team members, but also their own leadership status
Let these findings underpin your motivation to start implementing a structure of shared leadership in your team. In this regard, we would also like to refer you to this page where we clarify how we can help organisations to implement an effective structure of shared leadership in practice and how to further develop the existing leadership potential.