Putting the ‘‘We’’ in Leadership: Continuing the Dialogue to Advance Our Science and Practice


This article addresses the insightful and diverse commentaries received regarding our focal article examining collectivistic leadership approaches from both a scientific and practical perspective. In our response, we attend to four emergent themes: the interdisciplinary and historic nature of collectivistic approaches to leadership, the need for studying the nature of collectivistic leadership as a unique phenomenon, the benefits and vulnerabilities associated with this leadership perspective, and the importance of understanding from a holistic perspective what influences collectivistic leadership and how to develop it. For each theme, we integrate feedback from the commentaries and provide our perspective in terms of how to continue the dialogue on collectivistic leadership for scientific and practical advancement.

We appreciate the numerous insightful

responses regarding our focal article (Yammarino,

Salas, Serban, Shirreffs, & Shuffler,

2012) examining collectivistic leadership

approaches from both a scientific and practical

perspective. The commentaries offer a

range of well-developed perspectives and

rich information that we believe provides

additional support to the argument that collectivistic

leadership approaches are indeed

worthy of attention. Furthermore, we appreciate

the attempts to expand the literature

base presented in our article as well as the

attention brought to specific aspects of the

issues addressed. In addition, we would like

to thank several of the authors for pointing

out aspects of the collectivistic leadership

literature that we were unable to address
within the constraints of our initial article.
Viewing the commentaries as a whole,
we believe there are several themes that
have emerged and should be further discussed.
Our response therefore is centered
on expanding upon these themes
and addressing their relevance in terms
of advancing our science and practice.
Specifically, we address: (a) the interdisciplinary
and historic nature of collectivistic
approaches to leadership, (b) the
need for studying the nature of collectivistic
leadership as a unique phenomenon,
(c) the benefits and vulnerabilities associated
with this leadership perspective, and
(d) the importance of understanding from a
holistic perspective what influences collectivistic
leadership and how to develop it. For
each theme, we integrate feedback from the
commentaries and provide our perspective
on how to continue the dialogue on collectivistic
leadership for scientific and practical

Interdisciplinary and Historic
Nature of Collectivistic Leadership
As was noted in a few commentaries
and elsewhere (e.g., Denis, Langley, &
Sergi, 2012), the study of leadership from
a ‘‘we’’ perspective is not new, and it
was not our intention to frame it as
such. Indeed, collectivistic approaches to
leadership have existed for quite some
time (e.g., Gibb, 1954), and over the
past half century, multiple theories have
been developed to explain how and why
such leadership can exist. Our purpose
with the focal article was to highlight the
fact that, although theories of collectivistic
leadership may have existed for some time,
attention has recently come back to this
idea due to the needs of organizations,
providing us with the motivation to delve
further to identify similarities, differences,
and practical applications for some of the
more recent approaches.
In addition to the historical nature of
collectivistic leadership, it is also important
to acknowledge that the study of this
type of leadership does indeed span disciplinary
boundaries. ‘‘We’’ approaches to
leadership have been studied in sociology,
organizational behavior, education,
and psychology. They have also been influenced
by areas such as political science,
organizational communication, and even
computer science, whereby understanding
aspects, such as the underlying networks of
systems and modalities of communication,
can inform our understanding of what leadership
structures may look like in today’s
technology-driven organizations. Given our
audience, we chose to focus our article on
five theories that represent organizational
behavior and psychological approaches to
collectivistic leadership.We mention, however,
in the focal article that there may be
other viable approaches that can be considered
collectivistic, and we believe that
the perspectives offered in other disciplines
provide a rich source of information that
can and should be incorporated into future
thinking regarding collectivistic approaches
to leadership.

Thus, it is important that both academics
and practitioners alike take this historic and
interdisciplinary approach to collectivistic
leadership into account as we move forward
with research and practice in this area.
Although collectivistic leadership may be
seeing a surge in interest given changing
organizational demands, this does not
mean that previous theories do not have
merit in terms of providing insight to
our understanding of this phenomenon.
Instead, we encourage academics and
practitioners alike to continue integrating
the different perspectives presented both
in our focal article as well as in the
commentaries, such as leadership in the
plural (Sergi, Denis, & Langley, 2012),
dyadic leadership (Hunter, Cushenbery, &
Fairchild, 2012), and democratic leadership
(Wegge, Jeppesen, &Weber, 2012).Models
such as the collective leadership model
presented by Friedrich, Vessey, Schuelke,
Ruark, and Mumford (2009) and further
discussed in detail by Mumford, Friedrich,
Vessey, and Ruark (2012) provide one
such way in which different theories have
been integrated, as they discuss in their
commentary. Furthermore, as specifically
highlighted by Sergi and colleagues (2012),
utilizing theories of collectivistic leadership
presented by different disciplines can help
to build a richer perspective on this
phenomenon as well. We would thus like to
thank Sergi and colleagues for the historical
perspective and additional views from other
disciplines, particularly their own view of
collectivistic leadership.
Study of Collectivistic Leadership
as a Unique Phenomenon
Another emergent theme across several
commentaries was the discussion of how
to study collectivistic leadership. Certainly,
the dynamics of collectivistic leadership
may not always lend themselves to traditional
studies and metrics. Indeed, there has
already been debate within the shared and
collectivistic leadership literature regarding
how to best capture this phenomenon at
a group level, such as through the use

of network measures to gather individual
responses or through creating team-level
metrics (Avolio, Sivasubramaniam, Murry,
Jung, & Garger, 2003; Balkundi & Kilduff,
2006; Gockel &Werth, 2010). Furthermore,
more qualitative approaches such as the
case studies presented by Cullen, Palus,
Chrobot-Mason, and Appaneal (2012) in
their commentary can provide additional
richness that may bemissed by purely quantitative
methods. Overall, there emerges
a critical issue to be addressed by both
academics and practitioners alike in terms
of understanding collectivistic leadership:
How do we capture the uniqueness of this
construct in an effective and efficient manner
that matches our theory?
In terms of the metric aspect of collectivistic
leadership, there is no simple answer
to this question, given the complex nature
of collectivistic leadership and the many
forms it may take. However, it is critical that
researchers begin to think in new ways that
may provide depth and understanding. For
example, in their commentary, Carter and
DeChurch (2012) note the value of applying
network analysis as ameans for understanding
the complex structural issues that arise
when leadership is shared within a collective.
We agree that this approach indeed
has merit as a potential way for measuring
this phenomenon, and in fact the use
of such social network analysis has already
begun to emerge within the collectivistic
leadership literature as a means for collecting
such data (Carson, Tesluk & Marrone,
2007; Gockel & Werth, 2010). We would
thus like to thank Carter and DeChurch
(2012) for the expansion of the networkbased
ideas of collectivistic leadership.
However, social network analysis is not
the only way that we can effectively capture
collectivistic leadership. As research in
this area continues, it is important that our
operationalizations of what we mean by
collectivistic leadership match our theoretical
underpinnings. Thus, although in some
cases short metrics such as those found in
social network approaches may be appropriate,
at other times more detailed metrics
such as Avolio and colleagues’ (2003) Team

Leadership Questionnaire may be more
appropriate, as this may explore the construct
at a greater depth than a single-item
sociometric questionnaire. Furthermore, it
may be appropriate to merge methodologies
to produce appropriate metrics. For
example, it has been proposed that collectivistic
leadership is not just about the structure
of the network but also about the types
of behaviors being performed by individuals,
as individuals sharing leadership may
take on performing one or more leadership
behaviors within a collective (Morgeson,
DeRue, & Karam, 2010). Instead of asking
the broad question of ‘‘To what degree does
your team rely on this individual for leadership?’’
that has previously been used to
calculate social network metrics of density
(Carson et al., 2007), it may be necessary
to create questions more specific to the
types of behaviors that can be performed
by leaders, such as planning, problem solving,
and offering support (Hiller, Day, &
Vance, 2006). In addition, to accommodate
samples that may have limited time
yet can provide us with a unique perspective
in regards to this type of leadership
(e.g., military, disaster response, global virtual
teams), the development of unobtrusive
measures (e.g., via email communications,
videoconferences, sociometric badges)may
also provide unique and novel means for
capturing and operationalizing collectivistic
In addition to exploring metrics, the use
of qualitative methodologies can also provide
us with additional information regarding
this phenomenon. Both Cullen and
colleagues (2012) and Hunter and colleagues
(2012) provide case study examples
in their commentaries, with Hunter et al.
(2012) specifically calling for the use of
case illustrations to provide additional
depth and understanding to collectivistic
leadership. We agree that this type
of qualitative information can provide
novel perspectives for organizational issues
such as collectivistic leadership that have
unique qualities and characteristics that
may be different from traditional perspectives.
The use of qualitative data and case

studies can help researchers to build more
grounded approaches whereby the phenomenon
drives theory development as
opposed to theories from more traditional
approaches being applied at a different level
of analysis. For example, this type of qualitative
approach has been used to study
leadership in multiteam systems, or teams of
teams working together towards a common
goal (DeChurch et al., 2011). We would
like to thank Hunter et al. (2012) and Cullen
et al. (2012) for the case-based examples of
a dyadic (dual) approach to collectivistic
leadership and case-based examples of collectivistic
leadership development, respectively.
In a historiometric qualitative review of
real world multiteam systems (i.e., provincial
reconstruction teams, disaster response
systems), DeChurch and colleagues (2011)
elicited a new theoretical perspective of
leadership forms and behaviors necessary
for effective multiteam system operations.
This perspective would not have developed
had the authors tried to simply
apply team-level theories of leadership to
the multiteam system level, as the novel
characteristics of multiteam systems and
their influence on leadership would not
have been understood. Thus, qualitative
research regarding collectivistic leadership
may also be necessary to achieve a holistic
understanding of collectivistic leadership
as a unique phenomenon in the leadership
In sum, collectivistic leadership is theoretically
and practically different from what
we know about traditional, individualistic
approaches to leadership and therefore
requires its own set of methodologies and
metrics for study. We need to be creative
in how we approach the study of collectivistic
leadership and develop appropriate
techniques that may look very different from
traditional leadership studies. If we simply
try to adjust traditional leadership studies to
accommodate collectivistic leadership, we
likely will miss the nuances of collectivistic
leadership that occur in real world situations
and therefore will not be as effective in

terms of developing theory as well as practical
solutions for ensuring the effectiveness
of ‘‘we’’ leadership.
Benefits and Vulnerabilities of
Collectivistic Leadership
A third emergent theme is that of the need
to address the benefits and vulnerabilities
of collectivistic leadership as a construct.
As we discussed in our focal article, collectivistic
forms of leadership are dynamic and
shifting, with numerous factors impacting
how well it is enacted, when it should be
enacted, and how followers may respond
to this type of leadership. Indeed, one of
the reasons why there are multiple theories
and models of collectivistic leadership is
likely due to the wide number of factors
that appear to influence the structure and
nature of collectivistic leadership. As such,
there are both benefits and vulnerabilities
in terms of when and how collectivistic
leadership may or may not be effective.
First, as discussed in our focal article,
there are benefits to utilizing collectivistic
forms of leadership, especially given the
challenges faced in the workplace today.
Although additional rigorous empirical
research is needed to better establish
this claim, initial research conducted has
illustrated the positive influences of sharing
leadership on outcomes such as team
performance (Hiller et al., 2006; Mehra,
Smith, Dixon, & Robertson, 2006) and
that it has influences above and beyond
traditional vertical leadership (Pearce &
Conger, 2003). Within the commentaries,
both Mumford and colleagues (2012) and
Dust and Ziegert (2012) acknowledge that
there are multiple factors contributing in
terms of when collectivistic leadership
can be effective. Dust and Ziegert (2012)
specifically focus on the idea that having
multiple leaders to coenact roles can reduce
the chances of missing environmental cues
and can serve to ensure that someone is
always available to meet the leadership
needs of a collective. We would like
to thank Dust and Ziegert (2012) for
bringing this perspective and highlighting

the complexities of distribution (multiple
leaders) and context (complex environment)
issues for collectivistic leadership.
Mumford and colleagues (2012) expand
on their original model and discuss the
conditions that lead to the possibility of
enacting collective leadership. One specific
factor highlighted here is the possession of
expertise by individuals, which can be used
to facilitate the sharing of leadership based
on who holds expertise at a given point in
time. Space precluded us from presenting
the details of their model in our focal article,
but we would like to thank Mumford
and colleagues (2012) for providing them.
Drawing upon these commentaries and our
focal article, we want to reiterate the point
that there are certain factors that appear to
be critical to the success of collectivistic
leadership. However, additional empirical
research is sorely needed to better understand
the differing conditions necessary for
facilitating the benefits of collectivistic leadership.
Indeed, this is particularly true as
there are differing perspectives on the influences
of certain factors and how they may
work together. For example, it may be
the case that both coenactment of roles
and expertise are necessary for facilitating
effective collectivistic leadership, such that
coenactment is best managed when individuals
with different types of expertise step
up to take on leadership roles based on their
expertise. For example, having one or more
individuals who can take on relationshiporiented
behaviors (e.g., developing a supportive
climate, managing conflict) as well
as one or more individuals who can take
on task-oriented behaviors (e.g., planning,
setting goals) may optimize collectivistic
leadership by addressing multiple needed
behaviors for collective success.
Although collectivistic leadership appears
to have benefits, there are also vulnerabilities
that must be acknowledged. Although
in theory collectivistic leadership seems
very promising, again the lack of empirical
evidence means that we also do not understand
all of the factors that may contribute to
the ineffectiveness of such leadership. Several
commentaries noted that, in particular,

the issue of followership in connection to
collectivistic leadership is one area that is
certainly in need of attention. For example,
O’Shea (2012) argues that followers can
restrain the sharing of leadership functions
throughout an organization, in that followers
may resist structured attempts to share
leadership. O’Shea proposes that leaders
must be proactive in their desire to form
shared leadership structures and take appropriate
actions to communicate with followers
regarding how to best establish this form
of leadership. We would like to thank the
author for providing this new perspective
and expanding ideas about followers’ roles
in resistance or igniting collectivistic leadership.
Wegge and colleagues (2012) also
note that caution must be taken not to
‘‘romanticize’’ collectivistic leadership as
always being a positive for groups and
organizations, as has been done at times in
the past with traditional leadership. As such,
they suggest acknowledging destructive
forms of collectivistic leadership as well
and laissez-faire leadership behavior in the
analysis of shared leadership. We would
like to thank Wegge and colleagues as
well for revealing another missing piece
in the collectivistic leadership realm by
highlighting destructive and democratic
aspects of it.
In addition to acknowledging that collectivistic
leadership has both benefits and
vulnerabilities, it is also necessary to note
that research is needed to make clarifications
where researchers have contradictory
perspectives regarding when a condition
may have a positive or a negative influence
on collectivistic leadership. For example,
Dust and Ziegert (2012) argue that collectivistic
leadership may be effective when
time is short, while Mumford and colleagues
(2012) propose that such leadership
is more beneficial when there is ample time
to develop appropriate cognitions. Thus, as
we begin to shape our future study of collectivistic
leadership, integrating theories and
perspectives is necessary in order to test the
conditions under which such issues can be
addressed. This is especially critical from

a practical perspective as we look to make
recommendations regarding how and when
collectivistic leadership should be developed
and maintained.
In sum, collectivistic leadership has
potential to serve as a benefit to teams,
systems, and organizations, yet there are
also potential vulnerabilities that need to be
acknowledged. ‘‘More’’ collectivistic leadership
is not always the correct solution,
and thus we must turn towards advancing
our research to provide us with evidence
regarding when such leadership is and is
not appropriate.
Approaching Collectivistic
Leadership Holistically
The final theme that we would like to highlight
is the need to address collectivistic
leadership from a holistic perspective. What
we mean by this is that future research
must address the antecedents, processes,
moderators, outcomes, and developmental
aspects of collectivistic leadership. The
models and research presented in our focal
article as well as the commentaries provide
some initial perspectives on multiple
aspects of these components, but we want
to strongly reiterate that as a relatively unexplored
phenomenon, we need to ensure that
future empirical work focuses on all aspects
and not simply those that are easy to assess
or ‘‘hot topics.’’
In terms of specific directions, our previous
theme touched on the need to address
the moderating factors that set the conditions
under which collectivistic leadership
may be effective or ineffective, such as time,
followership, expertise, and coenactment.
Two additional areas that are especially
in need of attention as we move forward
include the antecedents of collectivistic
leadership and the development of collectivistic
leadership. These two aspects are
closely linked together because as we begin
to determine antecedents of shared and collectivistic
leadership, we can also begin
to create developmental interventions built
around these antecedents. Venus, Mao,
Lanaj, and Johnson (2012) provide one such

antecedent in their discussion of collective
identity as a predictor of collectivistic
leadership. We would like to thank Venus
and colleagues (2012) for highlighting this
key construct (antecedent) of collectivistic
leadership. Other antecedents that have
been previously proposed or empirically
examined include leadership skills and abilities
of individuals comprising the collective
(Friedrich et al., 2009), internal team environment
(Carson et al., 2007), and team,
task, and environmental attributes such as
team commitment, task complexity, and
organizational support systems (Pearce &
Sims, 2002).Given thesemany antecedents,
it is critical that we investigate not only their
individual influences but also the combined
effects they may have on the development
of collectivistic leadership in different situations.
The exploration of these antecedents,
along with the processes they influence and
the conditions under which they maximize
collectivistic leadership effectiveness, can
provide a solid grounding for the development
of interventions aimed at creating
effective collectivistic leadership. We
applaud the work of Cullen and colleagues
(2012) in beginning to address collectivistic
leadership development, as evidenced
by the case studies they discuss in their
commentary. However, we acknowledge
as they do the need for additional theory
and research so that we do not purely
rely upon traditional leadership theory and
best practices to inform our development
of collectivistic leadership. As discussed
previously, the uniqueness of collectivistic
leadership demands research that examines
all aspects of this construct in order to build
a more complete understanding of how different
facets contribute to its development
and maintenance.
We are pleased to see the range of responses
to our focal article, as they provide new and
interesting perspectives regarding the study
of collectivistic leadership from both practical
and scientific approaches. Although

there are many questions left to be explored
in this area, we hope that along with the
focal article and commentaries, the themes
presented within this response will provide
additional guidance regarding specific areas
of focus needed in terms of better understanding
collectivistic leadership. We look
forward to watching the research and practice
in this area grow and develop as we gain
a clearer understanding of the conditions
under which collectivistic leadership is best
developed, facilitated, and maintained as
the dialogue regarding collectivistic leadership
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