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Distributed leadership in organizations: A review of theory and research

Bolden, Richard


Richard Bolden
Dir of Res Ctr - Ldrship & Behav Change


The aim of this paper is to review conceptual and empirical literature on the concept of distributed leadership (DL) in order to identify its origins, key arguments, and areas for further work. Consideration is given to the similarities and differences between DL and related concepts including ‘shared’, ‘collective’, ‘collaborative’, ‘emergent’, ‘co-‘ and ‘democratic’ leadership. Findings indicate that whilst there are some common theoretical bases, the relative usage of these concepts varies over time, between countries and between sectors. In particular, DL is a notion that has seen a rapid growth in interest since the year 2000 but research remains largely restricted to the field of school education and of proportionally more interest to UK than US-based academics. Several scholars are increasingly going to lengths to indicate that in order to be ‘distributed’ leadership need not necessarily be widely ‘shared’ or ‘democratic’ and in order to be effective there is a need to balance different ‘hybrid configurations’ of practice. The article highlights a number of areas for further attention, including three factors relating to the context of much work on DL (power and influence; organisational boundaries and context; and ethics and diversity), and three methodological and developmental challenges (ontology; research methods; and leadership development, reward and recognition). It is concluded that descriptive and normative perspectives that dominate the literature should be supplemented by more critical accounts that recognise the rhetorical and discursive significance of DL in (re)constructing leader-follower identities, mobilising collective engagement and challenging or reinforcing traditional forms of organisation.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Sep 1, 2011
Deposit Date Feb 13, 2014
Publicly Available Date Sep 19, 2016
Journal International Journal of Management Reviews
Print ISSN 1460-8545
Electronic ISSN 1468-2370
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 13
Issue 3
Pages 251-269
Keywords distributed leadership, organizations, theory, research
Public URL
Publisher URL
Contract Date Sep 19, 2016




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Copyright Statement
This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Bolden, R. (2011). Distributed leadership in organizations: A review of theory and research. International Journal of Management Reviews, 13(3), 251-269, which has been published in final form at

This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions.

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