Distributed Leadership vs Shared Leadership Explained

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Leadership is a critical component of any organization, but what type of leadership is best for your company? Here’s a breakdown of the differences between distributed leadership vs shared leadership you can make an informed choice for your business. Each has its own set of pros and cons that you need to consider before making a decision. Read on!

What is distributed leadership and what is shared leadership?

Distributed leadership is a model where leadership responsibilities and decision-making are spread out among multiple individuals within an organization. Shared leadership, on the other hand, refers to a collaborative approach to decision-making where all members of a team have equal input and influence.

Both models can lead to increased engagement and buy-in from team members, as well as more diverse perspectives being brought to the table. It is important for organizations to determine which model best fits their goals and culture in order to effectively implement it.

Key differences between distributed leadership model and shared leadership model

What are the Key differences between distributed leadership and shared leadership?

  1. Distributed leadership involves the delegation of leadership tasks and responsibilities to multiple individuals within a team or organization. Shared leadership involves the collaborative sharing of power and decision making among team members.
  2. In distributed leadership, there is typically one designated leader who delegates tasks while in shared leadership, power and decision making is equal among team members.
  3. Distributed leadership can be more efficient in achieving specific tasks or goals, whereas shared leadership can lead to better buy-in and overall teamwork.
  4. In a distributed leadership model, responsibilities and decision-making are spread throughout the team or organization. This model requires trusting and empowering each individual to contribute their expertise and experience in decision making. In a shared leadership model, there is typically one designated leader who shares authority and responsibility with other members of the team. This model may involve rotating roles or having co-leaders within the group.

Both models can be effective in promoting collaboration and incorporating diverse perspectives, but it is important for the team to clearly define their approach to leadership and communication strategies in order for it to be successful.

shared or distributed
shared or distributed

Pros of distributed leadership over shared leadership

  1. One advantage of distributed leadership is that it allows for decision making to happen at various levels within an organization. This can lead to quicker responses and problem-solving, as well as a broader range of perspectives being considered in the decision-making process.
  2. Distributing leadership responsibilities can also provide opportunities for staff development and empowerment.
  3. Distributed leadership can create a more flexible and adaptive organizational structure, allowing for the meeting of changing needs and demands.

Cons of distributed leadership compared to shared leadership

  1. One potential disadvantage of distributed leadership is that it can lead to confusion or lack of coordination among team members.
  2. If not properly implemented, distributing leadership roles could result in certain individuals feeling overwhelmed or undervalued. It may also be more difficult to hold individuals accountable for their actions and decisions in a distributed leadership model.
  3. Without strong communication and trust among team members, distributed leadership can potentially lead to conflict within the group.

Overall, distributed leadership may not be the best fit for every team or organization, and careful consideration should be given before implementing this approach.

Pros of shared leadership over distributed leadership

  1. Some potential benefits of shared leadership include increased buy-in from team members, a broader range of perspectives and ideas, and the potential for better decision-making.
  2. Shared leadership can also lead to greater team cohesion and a more democratic workplace culture.
  3. Additionally, shared leadership can provide opportunities for skill development and growth among team members.

However, it is important to note that shared leadership may not be appropriate in all situations and careful consideration should be given before implementing this approach.

Cons of shared leadership compared to distributed leadership

  1. One potential downside of shared leadership is that it can lead to conflicting ideas and lack of cohesion among team members.
  2. The division of responsibilities might not be clear, leading to overlap or gaps in coverage.
  3. Shared leadership may also result in less accountability for individual team members.
  4. Decision-making can become overly collaborative and slow down the decision-making process, versus distributed leadership where specific individuals are responsible for making decisions.
  5. Shared leadership may lead to less accountability as responsibility is spread among multiple individuals.

In contrast, distributed leadership allows for clear roles and responsibilities within the leadership structure, leading to a more efficient decision-making process and increased accountability. it also allows for a more flexible and decentralized approach with individuals taking on specific roles and responsibilities within the leadership structure. This can lead to increased buy-in and ownership from team members as well as improved communication and decision-making processes. Overall, while shared leadership can have its benefits, it is important to carefully consider the potential drawbacks before implementing this style within a team or organization.

Situations when distributed leadership is better than shared leadership

  1. Many experts argue that distributed leadership can be more effective in situations where there is a high level of complexity and change. This is because distributed leadership allows for decentralized decision-making and distribution of tasks, allowing for faster responses to changing circumstances.
  2. Distributed leadership can also be more effective in diverse teams, as it allows for a variety of perspectives and ideas to be incorporated into decision-making processes.
  3. Distributed leadership can also lead to increased engagement and buy-in from team members, as they have a greater sense of ownership and responsibility in the leadership process.

Situations when shared leadership is better than distributed leadership

  1. Shared leadership can be more effective in situations where there is a need for multiple perspectives and input, such as problem-solving or decision-making.
  2. It can also be helpful in diverse teams, where different individuals bring unique experiences and insights to the table.
  3. Shared leadership can help to distribute workload and prevent burnout among team members.

However, it may not be as effective in situations where clear direction and hierarchical structure is necessary. Ultimately, the appropriateness of shared leadership will depend on the specific circumstances and needs of the team or organization.

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Distributed Leadership vs Shared Leadership Summary

Shared leadership and distributed leadership are two approaches to leading a team that have their own pros and cons. In general, shared leadership is better when the team members are evenly skilled and there is no clear leader, while distributed leadership works better when there are clear leaders and followers within the team. There are also situations where one approach is better than the other – for example, when you need to make a decision quickly, shared leadership is usually not the best choice.

However, ultimately it depends on the specific situation and what will work best for you or your organization. If you have any questions about which approach would be best for your team, leave a comment below and we’ll be happy to answer.

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Hidayat Rizvi
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*Based on a survey of small businesses using QuickBook Online conducted September 2018.