Scientific basis

Existing evidence & ongoing research

Leading Insights aims to help teams to harvest the talents within their team to the full. Being an expertise centre of KU Leuven, scientific research and evidence occupies here of course a central position. And this research is continuously evolving. Several on-going PhD projects in our centre further build on what we know to date and test the effectiveness of our interventions in diverse contexts and cultures. As such, we are constantly searching for ways on how to help you even better in the future.

It is our please to share with you the current state of affairs on the scientific evidence that underpins our services.

Sport teams

Existing evidence

Given that Leading Insights is embedded in the department of Movement Sciences the sporting arena constitutes birthplace of our story. A decade long scientific research on leadership within sport teams has enabled us to become world-wide renowned researchers in this topic.

These scientific studies provided us insight in the most essential leadership roles that athletes can occupy, in the role of the team captain, and in the benefits of shared leadership, both for the team's effectiveness and the well-being of the players.

Each of our assessments (both Shared Leadership Mapping and Social Insights Mapping), as well as our all-in 5Rleadership program rely on an elaborate scientific evidence base. For detailed information on our research, we would like to refer you to our research page.

Ongoing research

Of course, our research is continuous evolving. We would like to give you insight in some of our on-going research lines, which are aimed to further extend our knowledge on shared leadership in sport teams.

  • Shared leadership within individual sports

Our scientific research to date has focused mainly on team sports. A recent intervention study within track and field revealed that our Shared Leadership Mapping and our 5RS Program also entail a variety of benefits for training groups of individual sports. The results showed that training groups in which we implemented a structure of shared leadership reported a better motivational climate in their team, a higher team confidence, and a stronger resilience as a team, compared with training groups who did not complete our intervention. Based on this positive evidence this research line on shared leadership within individual sports will be further extended towards the future.

  • Leadership beyond the borders

The majority of the research on athlete leadership conducted today has been conducted in Western cultures (Belgium, UK, Australia, Canada, and US). The question then arises whether our findings are also valid in other cultures, which often adopt an entirely different idea of leadership. Therefore, we have started a new research line that focuses on the cross-cultural dimension of our approach. Here, we test whether our adopted principles are valid in different cultures and verify the effectiveness of our assessments and programs beyond the borders. 

  • Life after sport on the highest level

Elite athletes often have to make huge personal sacrifices to make their dreams true. Unfortunately, no matter what the cause is (age, injury of mental burnout), all sporting careers come to an end. What happens with these elite athletes, where their days are no longer filled with intensive training sessions, travelling to compete all over the world, and the adrenaline of the competition at the highest level?

It should come as no surprise that the transition to a life after sport is no sinecure. Despite there has been done quite some research to the factors that can facilitate this transition process, researchers never used the theoretical framework of the social identity approach to do so. A first study, conducted in collaboration with our Australian colleagues (Cath Haslam and her team) learned us that social identities occupy a central place in this transition. Besides their personal identity as being an elite athlete, athletes also have social identities that highlight their group memberships; being a part of a group of friends, a hobby club, a family, etc. In this research line, we further examine how to help elite athletes during and after their sporting career by cultivating and harnessing these social identities.


Within the organisation literature, there is much evidence on the benefits of shared leadership. Here several studies have pointed out that shared leadership is a better predictor of team effectiveness than vertical leadership (where the formal leader directs from a hierarchical leadership position). However, there is only sparse research that provides more insight in how to implement an effective structure of shared leadership in your team. Due to the growing interest of organisations to apply our assessments and leadership programs also in their teams, we were able to build up significant expertise in the past 5 years within the organisational context.

Based on our research within the sport context and based on our gained practical expertise in organisations, we strongly believe that our approach can also add important value for organisations. We are happy to share here the existing evidence with respect to the principles that form the basis for our programs. Furthermore, we also provide you with a sneak preview in our ongoing research projects.

Existing evidence for adopted principles

There is already a broad evidence base for the theoretical principles that underpin our leadership programs. We summarise here the most important scientific evidenced principles with some key references:  

  • Evidence on the importance of shared leadership within organisations:
    • Nicolaides, V. C., LaPort, K. A., Chen, T. R., Tomassetti, A. J., Weis, E. J., Zaccaro, S. J., & Cortina, J. M. (2014). The shared leadership of teams: A meta-analysis of proximal, distal, and moderating relationships. The Leadership Quarterly, 25(5), 923-942.
    • Pearce, C. L., & Conger, J. A. (Eds.). (2003). Shared leadership: Reframing the hows and whys of leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Evidence on the ability of leaders to cultivate and strengthen a shared social identity (a shared sense of 'we' and 'us'): 
    • The social identity approach of leadership: Haslam, S. A., Reicher, S. D., & Platow, M. J. (2011). The new psychology of leadership: Identity, influence and power. New York: Psychology Press.
  • Evidence on the importance of a shared team identity for health and well-being:
    • Haslam, C., Jetten, J., Cruwys, T., Dingle, G., & Haslam, S. A. (2018). The new psychology of health: Unlocking the social cure. London: Routledge.
  • Evidence on the effectiveness of the 5R Program (which is one of our programs and forms the basis for our 5RS Program):
    • Haslam, S. A., Steffens, N. K., Peters, K., Boyce, R. A., Mallett, C. J., & Fransen, K. (2017). A social identity approach to leadership development: The 5R program. Journal of Personnel Psychology, 16(3), 113-124.

As is evident from the publications above, our 5R Program has been developed and tested within the organisational context. Furthermore, we have gained the necessary practical experiences in organisations on our 5RS Program and conducted a scientific case study. 

  • Fransen, K., Haslam, S. A., Steffens, N. K., Mallett, C. J., Peters, K., Mertens, N., & Boen, F. (2020). All for us and us for all: Introducing the 5R Shared Leadership Program. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 51, 101762.

As expertise centre of KU Leuven, we of course aim to substantiate the effectiveness of our 5RS Program with scientific evidence. To realise this, we obtained in 2018 specific funding of KU Leuven and we started a collaboration with ESF (European Social Fund). We are happy to outline here the current state of affairs with respect to our ongoing research.

Ongoing research

Study 1: Cross-sectional study

  • Status: Published (Click here for more information)
  • Aim: To test whether our fundamental principles that we already evidenced within a sporting context also apply in a variety of organisations.
  • Scientific results:
    • A leadership style of the formal leader aimed at empowering employees is associated with improved leadership quality within the team.
    • When a team has better leaders within the team (here task, motivational, social and external leader in analogy with sport teams), team members will also experience a stronger shared team identity (a sense of 'we' and 'us').
    • This shared team identity is in turn associated with improved team effectiveness, as well as enhanced well-being (enhanced work satisfaction and decreased burnout).
    • Teams with better leaders within the team perceive their formal leaders as a better leader (this holds for both task, motivational, social, and external leadership).

Study 2: Qualitative and quantitative study

  • Status: Data collection completed
  • Aim: Identification of the essential leadership roles within organisations.
    • By adopting both qualitative and quantitative methodology, we want to identify which leadership behaviours are essential within organisations. 
    • Here, we also verify whether this set of essential leadership roles differs between profit and non-profit organisations and between different hierarchical levels within an organisations (e.g., team of manager vs. team of labourers).
    • Impact:
      • When currently conducting our Shared Leadership Mapping, we decide together with the formal leader on what the most essential leadership roles are for the team.
      • Relying on the results of this study, we will be able in the future to provide more specific advice on which leadership roles should ideally be included in this assessment.

Study 3: Intervention study

  • Status: Planned (2021)
  • Aim: To test the effectiveness of our Shared Leadership Mapping, combined with the 5RS Program, within a randomised controlled trial with control group.

Different contexts

We believe that shared leadership and cultivating a shared team identity does not only offer added value in sport teams and organisations, but also in a broad range of other contexts.

One of the ongoing PhD projects within Leading Insights tests the effectiveness of our programs in diverse contexts. A first study was conducted in cooperation with OKRA with walking groups of elderly, who each followed a 12-week walking program. Half of the groups received on top of this walking program also our 5RProgram, in which leaders were appointed in the group and a shared group identity was cultivated. The results showed that the latter group walked significantly more and also was more cohesive, compared to the group who did not receive the intervention.

At this moment, we are also in the process of conducting a study that tests the effectiveness of our 5RS Program within educational contexts to examine whether our leadership program can also offer added value for learning outcomes and class-level functioning.

As you can see, there are several ongoing pioneering research projects that illustrate our attempts to ensure the best possible quality of the assessments and programs that we offer you. It is exactly this translation of our scientific insights to our day-to-day leadership practice that inspires us to closely align our research questions with the specific needs of the field. Thank you thus for your feedback, as it is exactly this dialogue that drives our research!