Blog Collective Leadership: What, How and Why August 18, 2015

As the world advances and economics and market forces change, organisations also need to adapt to those changes. Accordingly, organisational forms of leadership also need to evolve. This move towards new forms of leadership is now becoming an imperative in the strategic agenda of organisations that want to achieve their ambitions, or just survive.

What The Meaning

Collective leadership is a social process aimed at accomplishing collective rather than individual goals and it requires collective and coordinated action.

Terms such as ‘collaborative’, ‘shared’, ‘distributive’ or ‘emergent’ leadership are often used to describe very similar concepts. This is understandable because shared leadership, for example, entails the emergence of individuals who exercise leadership from either official/formal positions of authority (e.g. manager) or any other position without authority.

Collective leadership is also about sharing power and influence. The new currency is no longer ‘intellectual capital’, but rather ‘social capital’ – the ‘collective value’ of the ‘collective actions’ of all organisational actors. This is in line with the argument that I presented in my previous post ‘Leader vs Leadership Development’.

Unfortunately, some supposedly credible sources of information (e.g. Wikipedia) provide a completely bias and misleading view of ‘collective leadership’ by presenting it only from a political ‘communist’ perspective.

How The Human Tower Analogy

The essence of collective leadership is captured in the image of a human tower. To build the tower, the stronger, more experienced or resourceful individuals of the team place themselves at the bottom. This provides the solid foundation for the team (organisation or community) they serve. In this way, the weaker, more vulnerable members, or newer generations, can elevate themselves and rise to the highest possible level.

Sadly, in many teams, organisations and communities, the opposite happens. The stronger or more resourceful members place themselves at the top. In doing so, they suppress, exploit and take advantage of the weaker, more vulnerable and less experienced or resourceful members of their team or organisation.

Why The Business Case

The business case for collective or shared leadership is compelling and justified by the following ten benefits to organisations:

  1. Break down of the inevitable silos created by organic growth or via acquisitions;
  2. Increased knowledge sharing across the organisation;
  3. Dissolution of power structures and bureaucracies that obstruct change;
  4. More team/organisation identification, collective responsibility and mutual accountability;
  5. Greater utilisation of knowledge, skills and expertise;
  6. Higher levels of commitment/engagement;
  7. Improved inclusion, acceptance of multiple voices and celebration of diversity;
  8. Faster acceptance and implementation of change and innovation;
  9. Superior coordination of action (execution) and performance outcomes; and
  10. Unprecedented business results.

Two Real Case Examples

Collective, collaborative or shared leadership is more likely to emerge in knowledge intensive and health care industries, i.e. knowledge-based organisations.

Cisco’s C-LEAD (Collaborate, Learn, Execute, Accelerate, Disrupt) collaborative leadership model, where innovation becomes an absolute imperative shifting focus from ‘super stars’ to ‘super teams’ (with claims of having generated savings of millions of dollars and billions in new businesses), is a good example.

In relation to the health care industry, watch Michael West, Professor of organisational psychology, explaining the role of collective leadership in developing cultures than can deliver high quality of care.


Working with organisations in building collective/sharing leadership capacity, I work at three levels:

  1. Pooling leadership at the top with Senior Management Teams (SMTs).
  2. Sharing leadership for team effectiveness, innovation and high performance (with a focus on teams at any level learning how to develop and share mutual leadership).
  3. Spreading leadership within and across levels over time (with intra and inter-organisational focus).


Within the current business context, the agenda has extended from ‘developing leaders’ to building ‘collective organisational leadership capacity’. Hence, collective leadership is no longer a choice, but rather a practical solution and a necessity. Collective leadership requires all organisational members to take collective responsibility to become mutually accountable for their collective effort and results.

The rest in your hands!


Sebastian Salicru (Business Psychologist) | Leadership Development Expert, Executive Coach, Facilitator, Researcher and Author | |