Abstract: The paradigm shift in the leadership field has resulted in several contemporary approaches to leadership. These approaches focus on process as opposed to traits—the emphasis of the traditional approaches. The purpose of this article is to examine shared leadership: the historical background, biblical foundation, differences between traditional leadership and shared leadership, dissimilarities of shared leadership and teamwork, benefits and limitations, and shared leadership in practice. Several benefits of shared leadership are highlighted, such as increased trust among team members and performance improvement. While shared leadership has several advantages, leaders need to be aware that it does not fit every context.
Keywords: shared leadership, leadership type, trust, performance improvement, church leadership
Many years ago, I occasionally visited a particular church for worship, and the services always seemed to be well organized. However, on one occasion, I visited the same church, and the worship service was disorganized. The disorganization was visible in the fumbling among the worship leaders relating to what they were supposed to do. On this day in question, the pastor was absent, and it was clear the worship leaders lacked the skills to organize and execute the worship service. This incident highlighted the fact that the pastor’s ministry lacked shared leadership, as he was the only individual organizing the worship services.
I have observed that many clergies have internalized the idea that they must always be serving to be considered a servant leader. With the popularization of this idea, some ministers have gone to extremes with the result being that they have stagnated their church’s growth and longevity; also, they have put their personal health at risk due to the psychological stress of burnout. According to this writer, there are at least four diagnostic criteria that indicate clergy are taking service to the extreme; that is, their ministry lacks shared leadership. These criteria are: (1) congregations are unable to maintain the same level of organization in their leader’s absence, (2) other local faith group leaders only get the chance to preach or lead out when the religious leader is absent, (3) clergy become “fidgety” when they are not leading out, and (4) ineffective execution of tasks by lay leaders due to lack of practice. This article focuses on the rediscovery of an old leadership paradigm called “shared leadership” and the historical context that precede the rediscovery.
The Rediscovery of Shared Leadership: The Historical Context
Before the latter part of the 20th century, the great man theory was the theory of choice among those who were trying to define leadership, and it was among the first types of documented leadership research (Cawthon, 1996; Sahin, 2012). This leadership approach became a formal leadership theory after the examination of the character traits of great men by social scientists (Brown, 2011). The great man theory is based on the premise that “great leaders are born, not made” or that the capacity for leadership is inherent (Cawthon, 1996; Malos, 2012). Two assumptions dissect this premise: (1) great leaders are born with certain character traits that enable them to lead, and (2) great leaders can emerge when there is a need for them (Cawthon, 1996; Malos, 2012). Great-men leaders are generally portrayed as heroic or mythic (Malos, 2012). This theory fell from grace with the rise of the behavioral sciences because it failed to generate a unified list of fundamental personality traits that determined effective leadership (Brown, 2011; Cawthon, 1996). However, the great man theory sets the stage for all subsequent leadership theories and is classified as one of the traditional leadership theories.
Traditional Leadership Theories
In the latter part of the 20th century, leadership research and theory shifted its focus to the traits or characteristics of leaders, decisions related to the goal to be accomplished, and the ability of leaders to influence groups to achieve goals (Navahandi, Denhardt, Denhardt, & Aristiguera, 2015; Wang, Waldman, & Zhang, 2014). During this period, leadership theorists developed the trait, behavior, and contingency approaches to leadership, which is referred to as the traditional approaches to leadership (Navahandi et al., 2015).
Trait Theory. Similar to the great man theory, the trait theory asserts assumptions that people possess certain inherent qualities and traits that enable them to lead (Malos, 2012). This theory focuses on identifying and measuring individual behavioral or personality characteristics (Malos, 2012). Some examples of the personality characteristics are introversion versus extroversion, and moodiness versus even-temperedness (Malos, 2012).
Behavior Theory. The behavioral approach to leadership is antithetical to the philosophical underpinnings of the great man theory. Whereas the great man theory suggests that “great leaders are made, not born” (Malos, 2012), the behavioral approach is based on the notion that “leadership is not a trait but rather a learned behavior and has little to do with innate personal qualities” (Cawthon, 1996). The behavior theory of leadership is rooted in behaviorism, and it concentrates on leaders’ actions as opposed to leaders’ mental qualities or internal states, as espoused by the great man and trait theories (Malos, 2012).
Contingency Approach. This approach looks at specific variables associated with the environment that might help to determine the best leadership style for that situation (Malos, 2012). The contingency approach is grounded in the assumption that “no leadership style is best in all situations,” and several factors determine leadership effectiveness, such as qualities of followers, style of leadership, and aspects of the situation (Malos, 2012).
Traditional approaches to leadership have been the focus of leadership theorists for most of the latter half of the twentieth century. However, interest is shifting to what is called the contemporary approaches to leadership.
Contemporary Leadership Theories
In recent times, there has been a paradigm shift in the leadership field from traits and behaviors to processes or relationships (Beckmann, 2017; Navahandi et al., 2015; Wang et al., 2014). Researchers and theorists are now focused on the process by which one or more people influence others to pursue a commonly held objective (Navahandi et al., 2015; Wang et al., 2014). This paradigm shift has contributed to the development of several new leadership approaches, referred to as contemporary approaches to leadership (Navahandi et al., 2015). Some of these modern leadership approaches are transformational, authentic, and shared.
Transformational. The transformational theory of leadership as pioneered by James MacGregor focuses on the existing relationship between followers and leaders (Malos, 2012). These leaders inspire individuals to change expectations, perceptions, and motivations to grasp the importance and higher good of the task to work towards common goals (Malos, 2012). While these leaders emphasize the performance of team members, they also want the team members to individually fulfill their potential for the higher good (Malos, 2012). Transformational leaders generally possess high moral and ethical standards (Malos, 2012).
Authentic. This approach to leadership focuses on leaders remaining true to themselves by acting in a manner that is consistent with their values, preferences, hopes, and aspirations (Navahandi et al., 2015). Authentic leaders do not display incongruence between their words and actions, and as a result, what you see is what you get (Navahandi et al., 2015). These leaders inherently use empathy and self-reflection to establish clear and trustworthy communication between group members and leader (Navahandi et al., 2015). The essential element of authentic leadership is the awareness of personal strengths and weaknesses while working to further develop weaknesses into strengths (Navahandi et al., 2015). Authentic leaders are not only aware of their limitations; they stay within the boundaries of their limitations (Navahandi et al., 2015).
Shared. Shared or distributive leadership is a mutual process of influence that is characterized by collaborative decision-making and shared responsibility among team members, whereby team members lead each other towards the achievement of goals (Dambrauskiene, 2018; Hoch & Kozlowski, 2014; Wang et al., 2014). Small and Rentsch (2010) defined shared leadership as the distribution of leadership functions among multiple team members. Shared leadership is also defined as a group-centric type of leadership, describing the mutual interactive influence among individuals in groups. The objective of such groups is to lead one another towards group or organizational goal achievements (Drescher, Korsgaard, Welpe, Picot, & Wigand, 2014).
Drescher et al. (2014) and Armon (2016) argue that central to shared leadership is the notion that more than one member of a group can enact leadership or exert influence on the team. The idea of distributing leadership functions among team members is different from the traditional approaches to leadership. While the traditional approaches are focused on the ability of leaders to influence groups to accomplish goals, distributive leadership is based on the argument that leaders serve multiple functions and more than one individual can perform these functions within a group or organization (Drescher et al., 2014; Small & Rentsch, 2010).
Wong et al. (2014) identified four different or alternative types of shared leadership, including cumulative, overall shared leadership, shared visionary leadership, and shared authentic leadership. Shared leadership is a process of mutual influence among team members that leads team members toward group or organizational goal achievements. For the sake of this article, this writer defines shared leadership as merely the sharing of leadership functions with others, which is a central motif discussed in Scripture.
Biblical Foundation of Shared Leadership
The Bible has several examples of shared leadership. This leadership style predates the creation of heaven and earth, and is evident in the creation story and at the family, tribal, and national level of God’s people in the Old Testament. Moses, Jesus, and the apostles all practiced shared leadership. Additionally, the concept of the priesthood of all believers illustrates the importance of shared leadership in the body of Christ. The following are just a few of the biblical examples of shared leadership.
The Godhead, Creation, and Shared Leadership
The Genesis narrative of the creation story indicates that God created within the community of the Godhead (Gen. 1:1, 2, 26, 27), which is a personification of shared leadership. Before the creation of heaven and earth, Genesis 1:26 references God as Elohim, which is a plural noun. This reference to God, as Elohim, in Genesis 1:26, is followed by plural pronouns in the conversation regarding the decision to create the human race in Their (God’s) image. The presence of Elohim and the plural pronouns in the conversation to create the human race (Gen. 1:26, 27) indicate that God decided to create the human race in the community of the Godhead. In Genesis 1:1, the same noun, Elohim, is used in reference to who was doing the creating. God created within the community of the Godhead, just as they decided to create humanity within the community of the Godhead. Shared leadership existed in the community of the Godhead before the creation of heaven and earth, but the Godhead decided to incorporate humanity into this leadership design.
Within the context of the creation story, God is personified as the ultimate leader and the sum total of effective and ethical leadership (Gen. 1 and 2). Through the creation narrative, God shared His leadership with Adam and Eve (Gen. 1:28) by giving the first couple the authority to exercise dominion (leadership) over the fish, birds, cattle, earth, and every creeping thing (Gen. 1:28). In addition, the Genesis account states that God shared His leadership with Adam by making him caretaker (manager) over the garden (Gen. 2:16). The human family was created in the image of God, which means that the human race was made to reflect God; that reflection was demonstrated when God shared His leadership with humankind (Gen. 1:26-28).
Leadership at the Family, Tribal, and National Level
The “firstlings” of Abel (Gen. 4:4) indicate from the earliest post-fall period of humanity that all first things had a special place in the economy of God (Exod. 13:1, 2; Deut. 21:15-17). Abel’s “firstlings,” or first things, suggest that all firstborn males were recognized as the civil and spiritual leader in their family (Exod. 13:1, 2; Deut. 21:15-17), which is illustrative of a formalized system of leadership at the family level. A firstborn son was recognized as the head of his family upon his father’s death, after receiving his father’s blessing (Gen. 27), and would receive a double portion of his father’s possession (Deut. 21:17). Possessing the birthright sets in motion the natural transfer of leadership from father to firstborn son upon the father’s death (Gen. 25:29-34; 27:36; 1 Chron. 5:1, 2). The leadership design at the family level sets the foundation of leadership at the tribal and national level (Num. 1), which is why God told Moses categorically to start the census at the family level, followed by the selection of a leader for each tribe (Num. 1:2). Consequently, the leadership at the tribal level was further distributed with the appointment of leaders of groups of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens, as well as the selection of the seventy elders (Exod. 18: 24, 25; Deut. 1:15). The fact that God established leaders at the family, tribal, and national level indicates that He never intended to consolidate power and authority in one person or a few individuals, but rather to distribute it radically throughout the body of His church.
Moses and Shared Leadership
Moses also practiced shared leadership after heeding the advice of his father-in-law, Jethro (Exod. 18:13-27; 24:1). Moses attempted to judge the people all by himself and when Jethro saw what he was doing, he told him “. . . the thing that you do is not good [healthy]. . . . For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself” (Exod 18:17-18). Jethro counseled Moses to select individuals to share in his leadership, and Moses heeded his wise counsel by selecting leaders of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens (Exod. 18:24, 25). Subsequently, seventy elders were chosen to share the leadership responsibilities with Moses (Exod. 24:1, Num. 11:16-17). After Moses shared his leadership with the other leaders, his work-related stress significantly decreased, and his effectiveness as a leader increased (Exod. 18:18; Num. 11:11-17). The life of Moses illustrates that shared leadership is a remedy for the psychological stress of burnout (Exod. 18:18; Num. 11:11-17), a common problem that impacts from 10% to 47% of ministerial professionals (Burnette, 2016).
Jesus and Shared Leadership
Jesus, the ultimate personality and sum total of servant leadership, practiced shared leadership. Jesus, though fully God and fully man (John 1:1-3, 14), saw it necessary to share His ministry with others. Jesus knew that shared leadership was essential for extending the Kingdom of God and thus, He selected helpers to share in His leadership. “From the earliest days of His ministry, Jesus did not work alone. He chose humans to take part in preaching, teaching, and ministering” (Tasker, 2016, p. 64). According to the Scripture, Jesus chose twelve disciples with whom to share His ministry (Mark 3:13-19), and after the selection of the twelve disciples, appointed seventy others (Luke 10:1) to share in His ministry. Jesus did not emulate the centralization of power practiced by the Pharisees and Sadducees, but rather practiced shared leadership and the distribution of leadership responsibilities. If Jesus, the ultimate model of servant leadership, saw the need to share His leadership with others, how much more do leaders working in religious organizations in the twenty-first century need to do the same?
The Apostles and Shared Leadership
In the book of Mark, we see that Jesus’ disciples were concerned about who was going to be first in His kingdom (Mark 9:33-37); their ambition to be first indicates they had a vested interest in the consolidation of power and authority. The mother of James and John came to Jesus and requested that Jesus place her sons on His right and His left in His kingdom (Matt. 20:20-22). These disciples were self-seeking, but their worldview was radically transformed from the consolidation of leadership to shared leadership. Before the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, the apostles experienced a taste of shared leadership as they were in “one accord in prayer and supplication” in the upper room (Acts 1:14). This was probably the first time in their lives they were not vying to be the greatest.
Additionally, Acts 6 records the selection of the seven deacons as a response to the discrimination experienced by Greek widows concerning the daily food distribution. The situation facing the early church was a perfect scenario for the apostles to practice leadership consolidation. However, they practiced the opposite. Instead of consolidating power and authority, the twelve apostles distributed the leadership of overseeing the food distribution to the seven deacons (Acts 6:3, 4). The distribution of the new leadership responsibilities to the seven deacons “pleased the whole multitude” (Acts 6:5), comprised of both Jewish and Gentile believers.
Robinson (2012) underscored the importance of this decision regarding the development of the early church when he argued that before the sharing of the leadership responsibilities in Acts 6, believers joined church ranks daily (Acts 2:47). After the distribution of leadership by the apostles, Luke’s language changed from believers who were added to the church daily to “the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7). Prior to Acts 6, there is no written record concerning the acceptance of the gospel by any priest (Robinson, 2012). This change in language by Luke suggests he wanted to emphasize the impact that distributive leadership had on the body of Christ, the church. The apostles did not only believe in shared leadership; they practiced it by giving evidence of their commitment to the priesthood of all believers.
Priesthood of All Believers
The concept of the priesthood of all believers is another clue that demonstrates God never intended to consolidate power in one person or a few individuals but rather to distribute leadership throughout the body of His church. Peter’s expression, “a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Pet. 2:9), is the New Testament allusion to the phrase “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” in Exodus 19:6 (De Graaff, 2016). The concept of the priesthood of all believers has its genesis in the idea that all believers in Christ are priests in their own right and therefore have no need for earthly priests to facilitate their access to God (Sokupa, 2017). Thus, the priesthood of all believers is a theological description of the nature of the church where all believers are in ministry (Hawkey, 2011; Sokupa, 2017); additionally, if all believers are equal in Christ, then there is no need for consolidation of power and authority. The priestly role given to each believer in the body of Christ is two-fold: (1) the proclamation of the wonderful deeds of Christ; and (2) the distributing of leadership responsibilities among the believers (Schweizer, 1992). This distribution of leadership reflects the fact that all believers are endowed with gifts for use in ministry for the common good of the church and society (1 Cor. 12:4-30; Rom. 12:3-8; Eph. 4:7-16).
As the gifts are highlighted mostly in the writings of Paul, especially in Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12, it is worthy to note that all believers do not receive the same gift (1 Cor. 12: 4-11; Rom. 12:4-8). Some believers are called and empowered by God to function in the apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, teaching, and pastoral ministries with the three-fold purpose of equipping believers for service, edifying the church, and fostering the unity of faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:11). While all believers do not possess the same gift, all are called to exercise their priestly role by using their gifts in ministry to uplift Jesus Christ before all people. As each member is endowed with gifts, the role of elected leadership should be to enable and empower other members of the body to become participants in the proclamation of the wonderful deeds of Christ (Hill & Hill, 2013). The role of leadership is to create and maintain unity within the body of Christ while coordinating the vision and strategies (Hill & Hill, 2013). Pastoral ministry, in reference to the priesthood of all believers, “is about equipping all Christians for their growth in Christ through the Holy Spirit for the sake of the mission of uplifting the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit before the world so that all people may be attracted to God” (Diop, 2017, p. 7). In the final analysis, the priesthood of all believers’ doctrine underscores God’s consistent commitment to distributing leadership and therefore, the aim to consolidate leadership is antithetical to God’s original design of shared leadership.
Antithesis to Shared Leadership
If God’s original design is the sharing of leadership responsibilities among His children, from where did the consolidation of power and authority originate? Lucifer’s rebellion in heaven generated the antithesis to shared leadership, the consolidation of power and authority (Isa. 14:12-14; Ezek. 28:11-18). God, who is the essence of all true leadership, thought it necessary to model shared leadership in the decision to create and redeem the human race (Gen. 1:26-27; Rev. 13:8; 1 Pet. 1:19-20; 2 Cor. 5:18-19, 21). On the contrary, Lucifer was obsessed with his own beauty and wisdom (Ezek. 28:16-17) and as a result, his obsession led to conceit (Isa. 14:12-14). Lucifer’s conceit led him down an egotistic path, and he began to reason within himself, “I will ascend in heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God, I will also sit on the mountain of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north, I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, and [most importantly] I will be like the Most High” (Isa. 14:13-14).
Lucifer’s egotism is undoubtedly visible in the usage of the personal pronoun “I” as well as the possessive pronoun “my” in Isaiah 14:13-14. The personal pronoun “I” was used five times in two verses, while the possessive pronoun “my” was referenced once. These references are explicit depictions of Lucifer’s objective, which was to consolidate power and authority for himself. The desire to consolidate power and authority in one person or a few individuals started with Lucifer’s rebellion. This type of leadership is antithetical to the sharing of leadership modeled by the Godhead.
Traditional Leadership, Shared Leadership, and Teamwork
Traditional and Shared Leadership Compared
Traditional leadership approaches view leadership as influencing others to achieve goal-related efforts without addressing the number of people who perform the goal-related functions (Small & Rentsch, 2010). The focus of traditional approaches to leadership is on a vertical or singular form of influence, where an appointed or elected leader exerts a downward influence on subordinates (Hoch & Kozlowski, 2014; Small & Rentsch, 2010). Team members’ ability to exert influence on each other is disregarded by traditional leadership approaches (Small & Rentsch, 2010). On the other hand, shared leadership is “a simultaneous, ongoing, mutual influential process that involves peer, lateral, upward, or downward influences on team members” (Wang et al., 2014, p. 182). Shared leadership is different from traditional leadership because it goes beyond the elected leader.
While shared leadership has some similarities to concepts such as self-leadership, co-leadership, and rotated leadership, it goes beyond the leadership role of an appointed leader. Shared leadership differs from these concepts because it emphasizes the social interactions among team members and allows for a dynamic exchange of functional leadership within the group, all with the collective aim to influence each other towards group goals or a common purpose (Wang et al., 2014; Wassenaar, 2018). Another difference between shared leadership and traditional approaches to leadership is that shared leadership shifts away from the concept of the unity of command (the emphasis of traditional approaches), moving towards the emergent process of mutual influence (Drescher et al., 2014). Shared leadership stresses distributed influence, while the traditional approaches stress concentrated influence.
Shared Leadership and Teamwork Compared
Though viewed as synonymous, there are differences between the two concepts of teamwork and shared leadership. While shared leadership involves working in teams, it is not the same as teamwork. Wang et al. (2014) highlighted the difference between teamwork and shared leadership when they argued that shared leadership stresses the distribution of influence and responsibilities among team members. On the other hand, teamwork is concerned with a set of cooperatively oriented conditions, attitudes, and actions that are used by team members to convert member’s inputs to team outputs (Wang et al., 2014). Notice that there is no mention of the social interactions among team members to mutually influence each other in that definition of teamwork. Shared leadership and teamwork share some common characteristics, but they are not synonymous.
Benefits and Limitations of Shared Leadership
The leadership literature indicates that distributive or shared leadership is associated with several advantages and limitations that practitioners, leaders, managers, supervisors, and organizers of groups need to be familiar with when deciding to utilize shared leadership (Hoch & Kozlowski, 2014; Small & Rentsch, 2010; Wang et al., 2014). The following section will highlight some of the benefits and limitations of shared leadership.
Shared leadership creates stronger bonds among team members; facilitates trust, cohesion, and commitment; decreases communication difficulties; and improves performance (Drescher et al., 2014; Hoch & Kozlowski, 2014; Small & Rentsch, 2010). Wang et al. (2014) conducted a meta-analysis on shared leadership and found a moderately strong positive relationship between shared leadership and team effectiveness. They also reported that shared leadership is essential to team goals achievement. After conducting their research on 142 groups comprised of 3,289 individuals, Drescher et al. (2014) found that trust grows as groups increasingly distribute leadership functions among group members. They also found that through trust, the expansion of shared leadership is associated with increased performance. In other words, as trust increases in shared leadership, performance also increases. Trust is the mediating variable between positive changes in shared leadership and positive changes in performance. The research of both Wang et al. (2014) and Drescher et al. (2014) support the idea that shared leadership creates trust among team members, increases team effectiveness, improves performance, and leads to team goals achievement.
There are several limitations associated with shared leadership that are especially relevant to practitioners, leaders, managers, supervisors, and organizers of groups.
Varying Degrees of Association. The first concern has to do with the fact that while shared leadership is associated with team effectiveness, improved performance, and the achievement of goals, the different forms of shared leadership may have varying degrees of strength in their association to the efficacy factors highlighted previously (Wang et al., 2014).
Lack of Controlled Studies. Another concern regarding shared leadership has to do with the fact that there is no known controlled study, based on the knowledge of this writer, which evaluates the effectiveness of the different types of shared leadership. Controlled research studies are needed to examine the different types of shared leadership to see if each type links to team effectiveness, improved performance, and the achievement of goals. Despite the effectiveness of shared leadership in groups, organizations, practitioners, leaders, managers, supervisors, and organizers of groups need to recognize that there is a lack of controlled studies regarding the different types of shared leadership.
Potential Risk to Confidentiality. The potential risk to confidentiality is another concern associated with shared leadership. Shared leadership has the potential of putting at risk the confidential information of workers, customers, and business partners such as workers’ social security numbers and salary information, as well as sensitive information associated with a company’s business partners. Leaders, managers, supervisors, and organizers of groups who engage in shared leadership must institute appropriate safeguards to mitigate the potential risk to confidentiality. Organizational leaders can benefit from implementing a need to know policy to limit access to confidential information. In other words, staff members should only have access to information needed for the completion of work-related tasks. The development and implementation of policies and procedures for reviewing, modifying, and terminating employees’ right to access computer systems, software, trade secrets, and other sensitive business information are essential to any safeguard protocol. Policies related to the frequent monitoring of information systems’ activities are needed to protect the confidential information of workers, customers, and business partners.
Group Dynamics. There are concerns related to how shared leadership changes within a group, and the possible consequences that may be associated with those changes. It is essential that leaders recognize that the research literature is lacking in relation to the dynamics of shared leadership and its consequences (Drescher et al., 2014). Practitioners, leaders, managers, supervisors, and organizers of groups should be aware of the potential risks associated with changes in a group’s dynamics, and they must put plans in place to mitigate any disruption to a group’s synergy or dynamics.
Blurring of Boundaries. Shared leadership has many positives, but leaders should be mindful that the mutual sharing of influence might blur the boundaries between appointed leaders and other organizational members or workers (Wang et al., 2014). Leaders in organizations that require a more direct course of action need to evaluate the viability of shared leadership—the process of mutual influence among team members.
Lacks Pointed Course of Direction. Lastly, leaders should be cognizant of the fact that shared leadership may not work in situations where group members need more pointed direction or are less likely to take the initiative. Shared leadership would be a misfit in organizations where people need a more direct course of action. Consequently, practitioners, leaders, managers, supervisors, and organizers of groups need to be aware that a leadership approach like shared leadership generally works well in organizations where workers and team members do not need a direct course of action from appointed leaders.
Shared Leadership in Practice
Shared leadership can be used in businesses, churches, and other non-profit organizations. This article provides two examples that illustrate how shared leadership can be used in a non-profit organization and the church setting.
Organization X is a non-profit organization that focuses on providing educational services to local community members; it has a staff of 50 employees. The leaders of this organization are passionate about shared leadership and incorporate it into their core values, staff meetings, employment, leadership development, and development of organizational goals.
Staff Meetings. Organization X utilizes shared leadership in their staff meeting at every level of the organization. Both the department and executive levels use a rotating chair for staff meetings. The rotating chair for each staff meeting is selected at the beginning of the year by asking staff members to sign up as the chairperson for at least one monthly staff meeting. To ensure an equitable selection process, the rule is that the same staff member can only be the chair-person twice during a calendar year and the two meetings have to be at least six months apart, and individuals may not chair across departments.
Employment. Shared leadership is also used in the selection of new employees. In relation to employment at Organization X, the leader at each level of the organization conducts the screening interview to make sure that potential employees understand the job requirements. The employment process continues with peer interviews of potential employees, where departmental peers select the individuals for employment. Likewise, executive vacancies follow the same process used at the departmental level.
Leadership Development. Another way that leaders in Organization X utilized shared leadership is in their leadership development program. The leadership development program begins with the selection of two individuals with leadership potential, non-elected leaders, in each department. The selected individuals participate in the leadership development program for six months. Generally, each department has one person in the leadership development program for the first six months of the year, and the second person in the following six months. This program is held once a month. Each department chooses one Friday of the month, based on an interdepartmental drawing for that department’s leadership development program. The first three months of the program concentrate on the philosophical foundation of leadership, shared leadership, ethical leadership, leadership in a changing world, applied leadership, organizational culture and leadership, work and satisfaction, self-awareness, creativity and innovation, stress and job performance, decision making, effective communication, organization conflict management, organizational power and politics, strategic management, and change. These topics are generally completed through seminars and online leadership courses. In addition, the first three months also include twenty hours of assigned leadership readings apart from the seminars and online leadership courses.
The last three months of the leadership development program is when each program participant gets a chance to shadow the elected leader and to participate in shared leadership. After the first Friday of shadowing, participants work with the elected leader collaboratively to assist in decision-making.
Because shared leadership has the potential of placing confidential information at risk, Organization X has policies that safeguard the confidential information of workers, customers, and business partners. Organization X has a need to know policy for employees, but the leadership development program is not a need to know situation.
Development of Organizational Goals. Organization X practices shared leadership in the development of organizational and departmental goals. The development of goals in this organization begins with the development of goals at the departmental level. This process begins with each department developing its own goals through collaboration with department staff. Workers in each department are asked to develop three goals and, from all the departmental staff goals, three department goals are selected based on the frequency of occurrence and department staff’s consensus.
Consequently, each department leader carries the goals developed at the departmental level to the executive meeting and from all departmental goals, three goals are selected based on the frequency of occurrence and consensus. Additionally, the executive team also develops two goals through collaboration. The two goals developed by the executive team are added to the three goals selected from the departmental goals to form the organizational goals.
This model of shared leadership used by Organization X indicates that distributive leadership can be utilized in different settings, including staff meetings, employment practices, leadership development, and the development of organizational goals.
Church Y is a two hundred and fifty member congregation located in an urban area. This church is passionate about following the leadership model used by Jesus Christ, and thus the members have incorporated shared leadership in their mission statement, board meetings, preaching calendar, evangelism, and worship committee.
Board Meetings. The leadership of Church Y uses a rotating chair system in their church board meetings. In the board meetings, each elder gets a chance to chair a board meeting at least once per year. The pastor of Church Y models how to chair a board meeting for the elders by presiding over the first two board meetings for each year. He also provides an opportunity for them to lead out in an elder’s meeting, which is usually scheduled one week before each board meeting.
Preaching Calendar. Church Y not only utilizes shared leadership in board meetings; they also use this leadership approach to prepare the preaching calendar. The leadership of Church Y meets on the second to last Saturday of each quarter to plan the preaching schedule for the next quarter. The leadership utilizes a collaborative process to decide who will preach on each date as they factor in special days and guest speakers. During this process, the pastor for the church is scheduled to preach twice per month for the main weekly worship service.
Evangelism. Church Y takes the evangelistic mission, entrusted to her by Jesus Christ, seriously. In their evangelistic process, the leadership of Church Y distributes the different aspects of the evangelistic process to different people because they believe that evangelism is a process, not an event. The leaders request that individuals volunteer as finance manager, public relation manager, interest coordinator, Bible study coordinator, music leader, lead Bible instructor, hospitality coordinator, social media coordinator, audiovisual leader, and lead usher. These individuals, along with the pastor, come together to decide the nature, type, location, and duration of each evangelistic event for the yearly calendar. Church Y runs four evangelistic events per year, one each quarter. These events may take the form of a one-week reaping seminar, weekend programs, a traditional evangelistic seminar that lasts for three to four weeks, a two-week family life seminar, and health evangelism. The preparation for the next event begins at the end of each event, and thus Church Y practices the cyclical process of evangelism.
Worship Committee. Similarly, Church Y distributes leadership functions among worship committee members. Each member of this committee gets opportunities to chair the worship committee, which the leadership views as central to effective planning and execution of the worship services. Each member of the committee learns how to plan and execute the worship with effectiveness so that the worship services are of the same quality in the absence of the worship committee leader.
Shared leadership is not only employed in staff meetings, employment, leadership development, and development of organizational goals, but also in church board meetings, preparation of preaching calendars, evangelism, and worship planning and execution.
Shared leadership is dissimilar from the traditional approaches to leadership. Whereas shared leadership focuses on processes, mutual influence, and lateral, upward or downward influence, traditional methods emphasize leaders’ traits, the ability of leaders to influence others to accomplish goals, a singular form of influence, and a downward influence on subordinates. Shared leadership is associated with trust among team members, increased team effectiveness, improved performance, and team goals achievement. This form of leadership can be very beneficial to leaders and organizations (both religious and non-religious) when used appropriately. Leaders who practice shared leadership in the appropriate context will reflect these four criteria in their leadership: (1) their institutions can maintain the same level of organization in their absence, (2) other leaders get the chance to lead not only when the elected leader is absent, (3) leaders are relaxed and composed when they are not leading out, and (4) tasks are adequately executed by staff or team members when the appointed leader is absent. Shared leadership can make a difference in an organization if used appropriately and effectively. However, it is essential that practitioners, leaders, managers, supervisors, and organizers of groups understand that shared leadership, though efficacious, is not fitting for every leadership context.
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Marlon C. Robinson, Ph.D., MA, M.Div., is an American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy Approved Supervisor, as well as a board-certified chaplain. He is the Director of Family Enrichment at Family On Point.