Shared leadership: A state‐of‐the‐art review and future research agenda

The traditional “great man” approaches to leadership emphasize qualities of individual
leaders for leadership success. In contrast, a rapidly growing body of research has
started to examine shared leadership, which is broadly defined as an emergent team
phenomenon whereby leadership roles and influence are distributed among team
members. Despite the progress, however, the extant literature on shared leadership
has been fragmented with a variety of conceptualizations and operationalizations.
This has resulted in little consensus regarding a suitable overarching theoretical
framework and has undermined developing knowledge in this research domain. To
redress these problems, we provide a comprehensive review of the growing literature
of shared leadership by (a) clarifying the definition of shared leadership; (b) conceptually
disentangling shared leadership from other theoretically overlapping constructs;
(c) addressing measurement issues; and (d) developing an integrative framework of
the antecedents, proximal and distal consequences, and boundary conditions of
shared leadership. We end our review by highlighting several new avenues for future

Increasingly, work teams distribute functional leadership roles to
members in areas in which those members have requisite talent
(Goldsmith, 2010; Pearce, 2004; D. Wang, Waldman, & Zhang,
2014). Recognizing this trend, leadership scholars have started to shift
their focus from a top‐down vertical influence process to a horizontal
and shared leading process among team members (Carson, Tesluk, &
Marrone, 2007; Denis, Langley, & Sergi, 2012; Lord, Day, Zaccaro,
Avolio, & Eagly, 2017). Shared leadership, defined as an emergent team
phenomenon whereby leadership roles and influence are distributed
among team members (Carson et al., 2007), has received considerable
attention in an array of academic disciplines, including industrial and
organizational psychology, organizational behavior, strategic management,
and entrepreneurship. Differing from other leadership theories

that focus on the leadership role of formal appointed leaders, shared
leadership highlights the agentic role of team members in team leading
processes (Carson et al., 2007; Nicolaides et al., 2014; Pearce &
Conger, 2003). In particular, accumulated evidence suggests that
shared leadership plays a promising role in increasing team effectiveness
(e.g., O’Toole, Galbraith, & Lawler, 2002; Pearce, Manz, & Sims
Jr, 2009; D. Wang et al., 2014). As such, shared leadership is an
intriguing new field that enriches our understanding of leadership
and shifts the leadership paradigm from viewing leadership as a property
of the individual to viewing leadership as a property of the collective
(Cullen‐Lester & Yammarino, 2016).
Although research on shared leadership has burgeoned recently,
the extant literature is fragmented in two important ways. First,
various definitions and corresponding measures across studies lead
to low consensus in shared leadership research. Indeed, D’Innocenzo,
Mathieu, and Kukenberger (2016, p. 1965) noted that “the literature has become quite disjointed with a proliferation of nomenclature

and conceptualizations.” To date, there is no unified conceptualization
regarding what shared leadership is and no unified theoretical framework
that explains the emergence and consequences of shared leadership.
Researchers have proposed several definitions, resulting in
different interpretations of shared leadership and the corresponding
measures (Carson et al., 2007; Day, Gronn, & Salas, 2004;
D’Innocenzo et al., 2016; Nicolaides et al., 2014; D. Wang et al.,
2014). For example, some definitions focus on the number of people
involved in leadership activities to distinguish shared leadership with
traditional leadership. These definitions highlight the collective
engagement in team leadership in contrast with the engagement of a
single leader (e.g., Ensley, Hmieleski, & Pearce, 2006). Some definitions
focus on the source of leadership influence. Specifically, shared leadership
involves horizontal, lateral influence among team members,
which is in contrast with the traditional top‐down leadership influence
derived from a formal position with entitled power and status (e.g.,
Pearce & Sims, 2002). Accordingly, researchers operationalized shared
leadership distinctively. Some of them focus on measuring the extent
to which team members collectively engage in leadership behaviors
(e.g., Avolio, Sivasubramaniam, Murry, Jung, & Garger, 2003; Pearce
& Ensley, 2004), while others intend to capture the extent to which
leadership is decentralized (e.g., Mehra, Smith, Dixon, & Robertson,
2006). Such various definitions and measures likely cause a significant
difference in the effect size that shared leadership has on the same
team outcome across studies (D’Innocenzo et al., 2016). Hoch and
Kozlowski (2014, p. 393) therefore pointed out that “a challenge facing
researchers is determining how to measure shared leadership.”
Second, although some researchers have quantitatively reviewed
extant studies on shared leadership (e.g., D’Innocenzo et al., 2016;
Nicolaides et al., 2014; D. Wang et al., 2014), our knowledge of the
antecedents, consequences, and boundary conditions of shared leadership
remains fragmented due to the lack of an overarching framework
that depicts the general stream of research on shared
leadership. The approach of meta‐analysis is limited in that it only considers
variables that have been examined in multiple samples. To date,
meta‐analyses (e.g., D’Innocenzo et al., 2016; Nicolaides et al., 2014;
D. Wang et al., 2014) have been limited to examining the relationship
of shared leadership with a single outcome—team performance—and,
in one case (Nicolaides et al., 2014), a single mediating mechanism of
this relation—team confidence. Contrary to this narrow focus, though,
dozens of studies on shared leadership have been conducted, and
many of them include unique outcomes and mediators. Because
shared leadership research is still emerging and a substantial body of
empirical research has investigated various antecedents and consequences
of shared leadership sporadically, a comprehensive qualitative
review is valuable for capturing this growing area of research more
effectively and for identifying important research directions. Despite
of some brief qualitative summaries of shared leadership embeded in
broader leadership reviews (e.g., Avolio, Walumbwa, & Weber, 2009;
Day et al., 2004; Denis et al., 2012; Lord et al., 2017; Yammarino,
Salas, Serban, Shirreffs, & Shuffler, 2012), so far, we still lack a comprehensive
review that synthesizes the factors that contribute to
how shared leadership emerges, why and how shared leadership influences
team processes, and what boundary conditions shape the
effects of shared leadership

With the aim of developing an agenda for future research, we provide
a thorough qualitative review of shared leadership research. By
doing so, we contribute to the development of shared leadership
research in four important ways. First, given the numerous definitions
of shared leadership (Carson et al., 2007; Yammarino et al., 2012), we
review shared leadership definitions, identify the developmental
history and key characteristics of shared leadership, and distinguish
it from other theoretically overlapping leadership constructs such as
emergent leadership, self‐leadership, empowering leadership, participative
leadership, and team leadership. Building on this work, we
endeavor to reduce current confusion regarding the shared leadership
construct and provide suggestions for its conceptualization. Second,
by reviewing the existing measures of shared leadership and evaluating
their respective strengths and weaknesses, we recommend some
theoretically coherent measures for future empirical research. Third,
we present an overarching framework that summarizes the antecedents,
proximal and distal consequences, and boundary conditions of
shared leadership, noting issues such as theoretical perspectives and
types of teams. Such a comprehensive framework has both theoretical
and empirical significance because it provides a roadmap of where we
are and where to start from for the advancement of shared leadership
research. Fourth, we discuss insights from our review and systematically
propose a series of potential future research directions.
Historically, researchers have conceptualized leadership as a downward
hierarchical influence process derived from a single individual
within work teams—the formal leader. Conventional leadership
research has mostly considered how one leader influences followers
in a team or organization (Bass & Bass, 2008; Bolden, 2011; Pearce
& Conger, 2003). This hierarchical, leader‐centric paradigm has been
a prominent feature in the leadership literature for many decades
(Bass & Bass, 2008; Pearce, Hoch, Jeppesen, & Wegge, 2010).
Nevertheless, since the 1990s,1 a growing number of scholars have
challenged the conventional conceptualization of leadership by arguing
that leadership can also be shared among members of a group
(Carson et al., 2007; Pearce & Sims, 2002). With this approach to team
leadership, team members exert leadership influence and provide
guidance to one another as needed (Carson et al., 2007). For example,
team members skilled in a specialized area might engage in leadership
behavior in that domain, while adopting the role of follower in other
domains (Manz, Skaggs, Pearce, & Wassenaar, 2015; Meuser et al.,
2.1 | Definitions of shared leadership
As shown in Table 1, shared leadership has been conceptualized in different
ways (e.g., Carson et al., 2007; Nicolaides et al., 2014; Pearce &

Conger, 2003; D. Wang et al., 2014; Yammarino et al., 2012). For example,
Pearce and Conger (2003, p. 1) described shared leadership as “a
dynamic, interactive influence process among individuals in groups for
which the objective is to lead one another to the achievement of group
or organizational goals or both.” Ensley et al. (2006, p. 220) defined
shared leadership as “a team process where leadership is carried out
by the team as a whole, rather than solely by a single designated individual.”
Carson et al. (2007, p. 1218) defined shared leadership as “an
emergent team property that results from the distribution of leadership
influence across multiple team members.” Chiu, Owens, and Tesluk
(2016, p. 1705) defined shared leadership as “a group‐level phenomenon
generated from reciprocal reliance and shared influence among
team members so as to achieve team goals.”
Across these different conceptualizations of shared leadership,
there are three key commonalities: (a) Shared leadership is about lateral
influence among peers, (b) shared leadership is an emergent team
phenomenon, and (c) leadership roles and influence are dispersed
across team members (seeTable 2; Carson et al., 2007; M. A. Drescher,
Korsgaard, Welpe, Picot, & Wigand, 2014; Pearce & Conger, 2003).
The first characteristic, lateral influence among peers, is pertinent
to the source of leadership influence. In work teams, there are two
important sources of team leadership. One is vertical leadership stemming
from the formal team leader, and the other is shared leadership
stemming from team members (Locke, 2003; Nicolaides et al., 2014).
Specifically, compared with the top‐down influence of vertical leadership
from a single formal team leader, shared leadership focuses on
the influence of horizontal, lateral leadership from team members
(Morgeson, DeRue, & Karam, 2010; Pearce & Conger, 2003). For
example, Pearce and Sims (2002, p. 176) regarded shared leadership
as “lateral influence among peers.” Hiller, Day, and Vance (2006)
emphasized that the epicenter of shared leadership is not the role of
a formal leader but the interaction of team members during the team
leading processes. It is worth noting that scholars have emphasized
that shared leadership is not an alternative to vertical leadership;
rather, both sources of team leadership are important and can operate
in tandem, and thus, they should be studied in tandem (Carson et al.,
2007; Denis et al., 2012; Kozlowski & Bell, 2003). For example, Ensley
et al. (2006) found that both vertical leadership and shared leadership
were significant predictors of new venture performance.
The second characteristic is pertinent to the unit of analysis
(Hernandez, Eberly, Avolio, & Johnson, 2011). In contrast to traditional
leadership as a phenomenon derived from a single individual, shared
leadership highlights leadership as an emergent property of a

collective (Carson et al., 2007). Whereas the first characteristic indicates
that team members are the source of leadership influence, the
second characteristic indicates that leadership influence does not
reside in the formal leader nor individual team members, but rather
it is shared among members collectively at the group level. That is,
shared leadership focuses on the pooled leadership influence of all
team members (Carson et al., 2007). Sivasubramanim and colleagues
(2002), for instance, noted that shared leadership focuses on the influence
of the group as opposed to one or a few individuals. Likewise,
Carson et al. (2007) emphasized that shared leadership is an emergent
property of a group. Accordingly, shared leadership should be analyzed
at the group level rather than at the individual level, and the referent
of leadership must shift from an individual to the group (Avolio
et al., 2003).
The third characteristic focuses on the distribution of influence in
the team leadership structure. Compared with a leadership structure
in which leadership is centralized around one leader, shared leadership
entails the view that leadership influence is “broadly distributed”
across team members (Carson et al., 2007; Meuser et al., 2016). For
example, Meuser et al. (2016, p. 1390) defined shared leadership as
“a form of leadership that is distributed and shared among multiple
participating individuals, rather than being produced by a single
individual.” While the first two characteristics indicate that shared
leadership focuses on leadership influence from all team members,
the third characteristic further describes how leadership influence is
distributed among team members, that is, leadership is dispersed
widely across team members. These three characteristics collectively
capture the inherent nature of shared leadership. Based on these
characteristics, we define shared leadership as an emergent team
phenomenon whereby leadership roles and influence are distributed
among team members.
In addition to the above commonalities, the existing definitions of
shared leadership also diverge in two important respects regarding
what constitutes shared leadership. First, the extent to which the
three characteristics of shared leadership are reflected in the
definition differs. Some definitions highlight the first and second
characteristics (e.g., Ensley et al., 2006; Gupta et al., 2011), whereas
other definitions highlight the second and third characteristics (e.g.,
Mehra et al., 2006; Pearce et al., 2010). Second, as summarized in
Table 1, some definitions add assumptions or additional requirements.
For example, Erez, Lepine, and Elms (2002) added the requirement
that a leadership role shifts among team members over time. Gupta
and colleagues (2011) restricted the content of shared leadership to

a certain leadership behavior (i.e., transformational leadership). After
adding these assumptions, the definition becomes narrower by capturing
a specific kind of shared leadership, such as rotated leadership or
shared transformational leadership.

2.2 | Forms of shared leadership
The aforementioned characteristics help us understand “what shared
leadership is.” However, the three characteristics answer neither the
question of “what is being shared in shared leadership?” nor “what is
the process through which leadership is shared?”
To date, organizational scholars have taken different approaches
to understanding “what is being shared in shared leadership.” First,
some research has focused on a specific leadership style being shared.
This line of research is associated closely with the first characteristic
of shared leadership, where team members perform the functions of
leadership that formal leaders traditionally handle (e.g., Ensley et al.,
2006; Hiller et al., 2006; Pearce & Sims, 2002; Schaubroeck, Lam, &
Peng, 2016). The combination of shared leadership with a specific
leadership style has spawned a large number of shared leadership
studies, including studies of shared transformational, charismatic,
transactional, directive, empowering, and authentic leadership
(D’Innocenzo et al., 2016; Nicolaides et al., 2014; D. Wang et al.,
2014). From this point of view, almost any type of leadership can be
shared, and shared leadership is regarded as “meta‐level leadership”
(Yammarino et al., 2012).
A second approach researchers have taken to understand “what is
being shared” focuses on “overall” leadership (D. Wang et al., 2014).
Instead of capturing certain specific leader behavioral content, this line
of research captures leadership in a generic or overall sense and then
aggregates individuals’ leadership to the team level (e.g., Carson et al.,
2007; M. A. Drescher et al., 2014; Mathieu, Kukenberger,
D’Innocenzo, & Reilly, 2015). For example, Carson et al. (2007) first
asked each team member to rate the extent to which the team relied
on a respective teammate for leadership in a generic sense. Then they
cumulated each individual’s score to attain a shared leadership score
for the team. Higher score reflects that the team relies heavily on most
of its members for leadership, and thus higher level of shared
As to “how leadership is shared,” existing literature also offers
several modalities. In one modality, the sharing process can occur
in a way that team members work together in time and place to “coperform
the same leadership activity.” Another modality is that the
sharing process can occur over time, where team members “emerge
as informal leaders serially or take turns to serve in the leadership role”
(Lord et al., 2017; Pearce, Yoo, & Alavi, 2004). This kind of shared
leadership has been labeled rotated leadership (Davis & Eisenhardt,
2011; Erez et al., 2002). Yet another kind of modality is that the
sharing process can occur across functional roles. According to functional
leadership theory (e.g., Morgeson et al., 2010), multiple leadership
functions or roles exist. Shared leadership does not necessarily
mean every team member must perform all leadership functions or
roles. Rather, team members with different skills or preferences may
selectively perform leadership functions in an interdependent way.
We can utilize the social network terms to elaborate this situation:

When each team member is responsible for one leadership role, the
team may have a centralized leadership structure in each role, but
the overall leadership structure is decentralized (Contractor,
DeChurch, Carson, Carter, & Keegan, 2012).
Forms of shared leadership can also be differentiated based on
the formality of the leadership roles. Typically, shared leadership is
ad hoc, emergent, and informal (Morgeson et al., 2010), because team
members who share the leadership usually do not have formally designated
positions. Indeed, Morgeson et al. (2010) have characterized
shared leadership as an internal and informal leadership style. Nonetheless,
some scholars have argued that shared leadership can also
be deliberately planned and implemented (D’Innocenzo et al., 2016;
Klein, Ziegert, Knight, & Xiao, 2006).


These three key characteristics of shared leadership help us identify
six theoretically overlapping leadership constructs: collective leadership,
emergent leadership, self‐leadership, empowering leadership,
participative leadership, and team leadership. In the text below and in
Table 3, we briefly introduce these leadership constructs and discuss
how they differ with shared leadership from the aspects of sources
of leadership influence, units of analysis, and distributions of leadership
Collective leadership
Collective leadership refers to “a dynamic leadership process in which
a defined leader, or set of leaders, selectively utilize skills and
expertise within a network, effectively distributing elements of the
leadership role as the situation or problem at hand requires” (Friedrich,
Vessey, Schuelke, Ruark, & Mumford, 2011; p. 933). Similar to shared
leadership, collective leadership reflects a team leadership phenomenon
such that multiple members jointly take on leadership responsibilities
within the team (Contractor et al., 2012; Friedrich et al., 2011;
Hiller et al., 2006). A slight difference is that collective leadership
tends to take the “fit” and “contextual” approaches to sharing
leadership functions. Yammarino et al. (2012, p. 394) suggested that
“collective leadership approach can be viewed as an analog of a
flexible, multi‐level, neuro‐cognitive system where neurons (people)
can be activated as the situation demands.” Collective leadership
assumes that team members selectively perform leadership roles that
match their skills and expertise and effectively distributing elements
of the leadership role as the situation or problem at hand requires
(Friedrich et al., 2011; Yammarino et al., 2012).
Despite this slight difference, collective leadership shares many
similarities with shared leadership. As summarized in Table 3, collective
leadership fits with the three characteristics of shared leadership
(i.e., team members take on leadership functions, views leadership as
an emergent collective‐level phenomenon, and leadership is distributed
among participating individuals). Pearce and Wassenaar (2015)
argued that collective leadership “readily fit under the umbrella term
of shared leadership” (p. 1). Indeed, both shared leadership and collective
leadership research recognize Gibb (1954) as one of their main

historical, theoretical roots (e.g., Carson et al., 2007; Contractor et al.,
2012). The terms shared leadership and collective leadership are often
used interchangeably in the extant shared leadership literature (e.g.,
Day et al., 2004; Nicolaides et al., 2014) and collective leadership literature
(e.g., Contractor et al., 2012; Hiller et al., 2006). In their impactful
leadership review, Avolio et al. (2009) also referred to shared
leadership and collective leadership interchangeably. Moreover, so
far, all meta‐analytic review of shared leadership included collective

leadership as well (e.g., D’Innocenzo et al., 2016; Nicolaides et al.,
2014; D. Wang et al., 2014). The Leadership Quarterly 2016 special
issue on collective leadership also included studies about shared leadership
(e.g., G. Drescher & Garbers, 2016; Serban & Roberts, 2016). In
short, collective leadership shares many similarities with shared leadership,
and there are no definitive conclusions about the differences
between shared leadership and collective leadership based on current
research. Yet, there may be a subtle nuance of these two constructs

where collective leadership concerns more specifically about “fit” and
“contextual” approaches to sharing leadership functions (Friedrich
et al., 2011; Yammarino et al., 2012). Future research may pay attention
to this subtle nuance of these two related constructs and use
the constructs that fit research contexts appropriately.

Emergent leadership
Emergent leadership appears when group members exhibit leadership
influence over other team members although no formal authority has
endorsed their leadership (Schneier & Goktepe, 1983). Similar with
shared leadership, emergent leadership also captures horizontal leadership
influence stemming from team members rather than vertical
leadership influence from a team leader (Schneier & Goktepe, 1983;
Zhang, Waldman, & Wang, 2012). However, whereas emergent leadership
shares conceptual space with shared leadership, the two constructs
are distinct. Emergent leadership does not fit with the second
and third characteristics of shared leadership (see Table 2). Specifically,
shared leadership is distinct from emergent leadership (Schneier &
Goktepe, 1983) in that emergent leadership typically focuses on one
or two team members who emerge as informal leaders, rather than
addressing the distribution and sharing of leadership among all team
members (Carson et al., 2007). In other words, emergent leadership
is an individual‐level leadership phenomenon that does not encapsulate
the leadership structure of the group.
Self‐leadership is defined as “a process through which people influence
themselves to achieve the self‐direction and self‐motivation
needed to perform” (Houghton, Neck, & Manz, 2003, p. 126). Selfleadership
is similar to shared leadership in that both constructs are
open to the possibility that team members can be the source of
leadership influence (Bligh, Pearce, & Kohles, 2006). Both shared leadership
and self‐leadership differ from vertical leadership regarding the
sources of leadership influence (i.e., who is the leader). However, the
sphere of influence for self‐leadership is limited to the leader himself
or herself, whereas in the case of shared leadership this sphere
encompasses all team members. Furthermore, like emergent
leadership, self‐leadership is better thought of as an individual‐level
phenomenon rather than a group‐level phenomenon like shared leadership.
Therefore, self‐leadership and shared leadership are related but
distinct constructs, with self‐leadership as a possible antecedent of
shared leadership (Bligh et al., 2006; Houghton et al., 2003).
Empowering and participative leadership
Empowering leadership is defined as “the extent to which leaders
enhance autonomy, control, self‐management, and confidence in their
team” (Chen, Sharma, Edinger, Shapiro, & Farh, 2011, p. 541). Participative
leadership involves the leader allowing followers to participate in
joint decision‐making and considering followers’ ideas before making
the final decision (Koopman & Wierdsma, 1998; Sharma & Kirkman,
2015). Similar to shared leadership, empowering and participative leadership
represent a broad distribution of leadership authority, influence,
and responsibility (Lee, Willis, & Tian, 2017; Meuser et al., 2016).
Although the empowering and participative leadership of formal team

leaders are likely to be important facilitators of shared leadership (Van
Knippenberg, 2017), there are important differences. In regard to
empowering leadership, team members have control over their own
tasks but do not necessarily have leadership influence over each other
(M. A. Drescher et al., 2014). Although a participative leader asks team
members to voice their ideas and considers their ideas in decision‐making,
the power of making final decisions is still withheld from followers
as formal leaders retain the majority of authority and influence in the
group. Shared leadership also differs from empowering and participative
leadership regarding the source of leadership influence. Shared
leadership focuses on horizontal leadership influence among team
members, whereas the formal team leaders’ empowering and participative
leadership still focus on vertical leadership influence.
Team leadership
Team leadership is an integrated concept based on the literature on
teams and leadership (Day, Gronn, & Salas, 2006; Zaccaro, Rittman,
& Marks, 2001). Shared leadership can be viewed as one form of team
leadership (Hoch & Kozlowski, 2014; Lord et al., 2017; Van
Knippenberg, 2017). Compared with shared leadership, team leadership
is a broader construct, because it includes influences from both
horizontal leadership (team members) and vertical leadership (the formal
team leader; Day et al., 2006; Morgeson et al., 2010). Also, team
leadership does not require that leadership roles and influence be
decentralized. Team leadership can also include centralized leadership
represented by a solo leader (Day et al., 2006). Thus, shared leadership
and team leadership are related but distinct.

In addition to a proliferation of definitions, extant research has taken
different approaches to operationalize shared leadership (Nicolaides
et al., 2014; D. Wang et al., 2014). We summarize the representative
operationalizations of shared leadership in Table 4 and demonstrate
how they fit with the key characteristics of shared leadership. As summarized
in Table 4, two major approaches to operationalizing shared
leadership have emerged.
4.1 | The aggregation approach
Some researchers have taken an aggregation approach, also known as
the referent‐shift approach (Chan, 1998), to measure shared leadership
(e.g., Avolio, Jung, Murry, & Sivasubramaniam, 1996; Ensley et al., 2006;
Hmieleski et al., 2012; Pearce & Sims, 2002). Methodologically, this
approach uses the original leadership scale (e.g., the multifactor leadership
questionnaire) and shifts the source of leadership from the formal
leader to team members (i.e., change the item referent from “my supervisor”
to “my team members”) and aggregates team members’ ratings to
the team level (D. Wang et al., 2014).
Using this approach, scholars have investigated the effects of sharing
a specific form of leadership (e.g., shared transformational leadership).
This approach has been useful in demonstrating that traditional
dimensions of vertical leadership (e.g., transformational leadership,

transactional leadership, directive leadership, and servant leadership)
can also extend to shared leadership at the group level (e.g., Avolio
et al., 2003; Ensley et al., 2006). Although most studies that adopted
this approach have investigated sharing a specific leadership, a handful
of empirical studies have also used the aggregation approach to investigate
sharing overall leadership, including multiple leadership functions
or styles (e.g., M. A. Drescher et al., 2014; Hiller et al., 2006; Pearce &
Sims, 2002). For example, Pearce and Sims (2002) suggested that
shared leadership includes five distinct behavior strategies: aversive,
directive, transactional, transformational, and empowering.
The aggregation approach fits with the key characteristics of
shared leadership. Specifically, shared leadership views leadership as
an emergent property of a group, and it focuses on lateral influence
among peers in which team members take on leadership functions traditionally
handled by a designated leader (Carson et al., 2007; Pearce &
Conger, 2003). The aggregation approach captures the leadership influence
that all team members adopt, not just a single, formal team leader.
A critical limitation of this approach, however, is that it generally positions
shared leadership as deriving from an undifferentiated set of
members and assumes convergence of attitudes among team members
(Carson et al., 2007; D’Innocenzo et al., 2016). Because this approach
assumes that team members share a convergent perception of how
much leadership their peer display, it takes the third characteristics of
shared leadership—decentralized distribution of leadership influence—
as granted.
4.2 | The social network approach
To address the above‐noted limitations, another group of researchers (e.
g., Carson et al., 2007; Mayo, Meindl, & Pastor, 2003; Mehra et al., 2006;
White, Currie, & Lockett, 2016) have adopted a social network approach
to operationalize shared leadership. The social network approaches
assume that dyadic leader–follower relationships jointly formthe overall

leadership structure within a group. Specifically, this approach assumes
dyadic leading–following connections and tests whether in fact they
exist (and to what degree), and then merges those dyads into a larger
collective network. Although social network approaches do not address
levels of analyses, they allow leadership to be studied as a shared activity
and provide details regarding the shared leadership structure, which
is indexed as density or decentralization of leadership network structure
at the group level. They also enhance the understanding of the recursive
leader–follower processes among team members and facilitate studying
the unique influence of teammembers (Carson et al., 2007; D’Innocenzo
et al., 2016), which is indexed as leadership centrality at the individual
level. Thus, the social network approaches allow scholars to investigate
the team‐level antecedents and consequences of shared leadership as
well as enable scholars to examine underlying processes at the individual
level (Carter, Dechurch, Braun, & Contractor, 2015).
In this stream of research, shared leadership has been operationalized
either as the density of leadership (Carson et al., 2007; Mathieu
et al., 2015) or as the decentralization of leadership (Mehra et al.,
2006). Density has been the most commonly used network index of
shared leadership (Carson et al., 2007; Derue, Nahrgang, & Ashford,
2015; D’Innocenzo et al., 2016). According to the density approach
(Carson et al., 2007), shared leadership can be measured by asking each
team member to rate the degree to which the team relies on each teammate
for leadership. Instead of using binary (i.e., leader or not) items to
assess the presence of a leading–following relationship, Carson et al.
(2007) used valued items (i.e., measured on a scale ranging from “not
at all” to “a great extent”) to evaluate the strength of the relationship.
Leadership density and thus shared leadership are highest when all
team members exhibit a significant amount of leadership influence.
In addition to density, some researchers have focused on the distribution
of leadership and have used decentralization as an index of
shared leadership (e.g., Erez et al., 2002; Mehra et al., 2006). Decentralization
is the reverse of centralization, where centralization is an

index of the extent to which the network is centered around one
member or a small group that has more ties than others (DeRue
et al., 2015). Leadership centralization is calculated as the sum of the
differences between the maximum individual member’s leadership
centrality value and every other individual member’s leadership centrality
value, divided by the maximum possible sum of differences
(DeRue et al., 2015; Kilduff & Brass, 2010). According to the third
key characteristic of shared leadership, the higher the level of dispersion
of leadership influence among team members (e.g., high decentralization),
the higher the level of shared leadership.
Both leadership density and decentralization capture the essence of
shared leadership (DeRue et al., 2015), yet each index has its own limitations.
For example, a limitation of the density index is that teams with
the same level of leadership density may differ in the extent to which
leadership influence is dispersed among team members. A limitation of
the decentralization index is that higher levels of decentralization could
refer to two competing situations (i.e., shared leadership and leader
void) and the meaning of high scores of decentralization of leadership
network in a teamis not very clear (D’Innocenzo et al., 2016). Therefore,
to capture shared leadership, it is advisable to use both the density
and decentralization indices simultaneously (DeRue et al., 2015).
Thus far, we have reviewed the key characteristics that constitute
shared leadership, the definitions and operationalizations of shared
leadership, and its similarities with and differences from other
leadership constructs. We now present an integrative framework that

depicts extant research on the antecedents, consequences, mediating
mechanisms, and boundary conditions of shared leadership.2 We also
introduce the theoretical perspectives that scholars have drawn to
elaborate how shared leadership emerges and affects its
consequences. Instead of introducing all detailed research findings,
our review aims to provide a more systematic structure by focusing
on key aspects of current research on shared leadership. Figure 1
depicts the integrative framework of shared leadership.
5.1 | Antecedents of shared leadership
5.1.1 | Formal team leader‐related factors
Extant research suggests that empowering leadership (Margolis &
Ziegert, 2016; Wood, 2005), servant leadership (L. Wang, Jiang, Liu, &
Ma, 2017), transformational leadership (Hoch, 2013), humility of the
formal team leaders (Chiu et al., 2016), and supportive coaching behaviors
of external team leaders (Carson et al., 2007) are all positively
related to the emergence of shared leadership in teams. Zhang et al.
(2012) also found that followers with whom leaders had developed
high‐quality leader–member exchange (LMX) tended to take on informal
leadership roles at work. Some research has also addressed the circumstances
under which formal leadership factors are related to shared
leadership. Chiu et al. (2016), for example, integrated theories of social
information processing, adaptive leadership, and dominance complementary
to investigate the effect of formal leader humility on shared
leadership under different conditions of team proactive personality.
They found that when team members share high proactive personality,

formal leader humility is more likely to increase shared leadership. Additionally,
Zhang et al. (2012) demonstrated that team shared vision
strengthened the positive effect of LMX quality on employees’ emergence
as informal leaders. Recently, researchers have considered formal
leadership factors that are detrimental to shared leadership.
L. Wang and colleagues (2017), for example, found that LMX differentiation
within teams was negatively related to shared leadership, but
leaders’ servant leadership behaviors buffer this negative effect.
5.1.2 | Team characteristics
In addition to top‐down influences, research suggests that some team
characteristics facilitate the emergence of shared leadership. Carson
et al. (2007) found that an internal team environment that consists of
shared purpose, social support, and voice led to the development of
shared leadership in teams. This positive effect was contingent on teams
with low supportive coaching behaviors from external team leaders. An
interesting finding fromtheir study was that teams with an unsupportive
internal team environment still showed high levels of shared leadership
as long as they received supportive coaching behaviors. Serban and
Roberts (2016) found that team task cohesion enhanced the development
of shared leadership. Two studies investigated the effects of team
diversity on shared leadership and found distinct results. Kukenberger,
Mathieu, D’Innocenzo, and Reilly (2011) showed that functional diversity
in teams had a positive effect on shared leadership only when teams
implemented highly cooperative conflict management practice. Hsu, Li,
and Sun (2017) drew on role‐taking and role‐making perspective and
argued that value diversity in teams had a negative effect on shared
leadership and team vertical leadership mitigated this negative effect.
Research has also found that some shared team member characteristics
are positively related to shared leadership, such as high levels of
core self‐evaluations (Kukenberger et al., 2011), integrity (Bligh et al.,
2006), warmth across team members (DeRue et al., 2015), intrateam
trust (M. A. Drescher et al., 2014), and endorsing collectivistic views
within the team (Hiller et al., 2006). In particular, DeRue et al. (2015)
drew on adaptive leadership theory to suggest the construction of
shared leadership as a process in which team members both claim their
leadership roles and grant leadership to others. A recent conceptual
paper by Hoch and Dulebohn (2017) proposed that teams with higher
levels of extraversion, conscientious, agreeableness, openness to experience,
and emotional stability are likely to exhibit shared leadership.
Additionally, team members’ engagement in self‐leadership, a process
through which members influence themselves by self‐directing and
motivating their own performance, has been documented as an
antecedent of shared leadership. Bligh et al. (2006) showed that selfleadership
among team members led to team trust, potency, and
commitment, which translated into higher levels of shared leadership.
5.2 | Consequences of shared leadership
In the following sections, we first review the proximal outcomes that
pertain to various team processes (e.g., team efficacy and team
affective tone), followed by a discussion of the distal outcomes such
as team performance and team creativity. Building on our review of
those consequences, we further summarize the boundary conditions
for the effects of shared leadership.

5.2.1 | Proximal outcomes
Most research pertaining to the proximal outcomes of shared leadership
has explored how shared leadership shapes team processes, which
in turn contribute to team successes (e.g., higher team performance and
team viability). Some of these studies have examined team cognitive
and motivational processes. For example, Nicolaides et al. (2014) synthesized
52 empirical studies and found that team confidence (i.e., collective
efficacy and team potency) mediated the effects of shared
leadership on team performance. Mathieu et al. (2015) found that
shared leadership exerted indirect effects on team performance via
team cohesion. Using a longitudinal design with three waves of surveys,
M. A. Drescher et al. (2014) found that increases in shared leadership
led to increases in team trust, which in turn enhanced team performance.
Moreover, Hiller et al. (2006) suggested that when team members
enact leadership roles, the levels of team collectivism increased,
resulting in high performance. Han, Lee, Beyerlein, and Kolb (in press)
showed that shared leadership increased team members’ goal commitment,
thus facilitating team performance. Bergman, Rentsch, Small,
Davenport, and Bergman (2012) suggested that shared leadership is
associated with less conflict, greater consensus, and higher team trust
and cohesion. Drawing on the I‐P‐O (input–process–output) framework
of team performance, Mihalache, Jansen, Bosch, and Volberda
(2014) found that top management team shared leadership enhanced
organizational ambidexterity through cooperative conflict management
style and decision‐making comprehensiveness. Liu, Hu, Li, Wang, and
Lin (2014) used social learning theory and suggested that shared leadership
had a positive impact on team learning and this impact was realized
through the mediating role of team psychological safety. McIntyre and
Foti (2013) found that shared leadership has a positive effect on team
performance through the mediating role of team mental model similarity
and accuracy. In addition to these empirical studies, others have proposed
that collective vision within teams mediated the effects of
shared leadership on team performance (e.g., Ensley et al., 2006; Ensley,
Pearson, & Pearce, 2003).
A small number of articles have investigated team affective
processes through which shared leadership produces high team
performance. Hmieleski et al. (2012), for example, used affective
events theory and upper echelons theory to explain that shared
authentic leadership in top management teams of new ventures led
to positive team affective tone, which translated into the better
performance of new ventures. In addition to team positive affect,
Hoch and Dulebohn (2013) suggested that shared leadership was
beneficial to controlling team conflict and enhancing team members’
well‐being, which helped teams achieve greater performance.
Several studies have also examined team behavioral processes that
explain how shared leadership helps team succeed. Marion,
Christiansen, Klar, Schreiber, and Erdener (2016) found that team
members’ enactment of informal leadership helped teams absorb information
flow and thus increased the team’s productivity. Using a phenomena‐
based simulation, Will (2016) found that team members’
participation in leadership roles resulted in higher team technical and
adaptive capacities. Other research also suggested that shared
leadership enhanced team proactivity (Erkutlu, 2012), team learning
behavior (Liu et al., 2014), and role coordination activities and knowledge
sharing behaviors within teams (Han et al., in press), which

increased team effectiveness. Interestingly, L. Wang, Han, Fisher, and
Pan (2017) used a longitudinal approach to examine the relation of
shared leadership with team learning behaviors and found that shared
leadership evoked team learning behaviors only at the early stage of
team work rather than at the middle or later stage of team work. Team
learning behaviors at the early stage of team work, in turn, facilitated
shared leadership afterwards. Their research suggested a more dynamic
and complex relational pattern between shared leadership and team
learning behaviors in self‐management teams.
5.2.2 | Distal outcomes
Most studies focused on team performance, typically observing that
shared leadership increases team task performance (Carson et al.,
2007; G. Drescher & Garbers, 2016; Hoch & Kozlowski, 2014;
Nicolaides et al., 2014). For example, Galli, Kaviani, Bottani, and
Murino (2017) examined the effectiveness of shared leadership in
Six Sigma Projects and found that shared leadership was positively
related to project completion and customer satisfaction. Muethel,
Gehrlein, and Hoegl (2012) found that shared leadership was an
enabler of team performance in geographically dispersed teams.
Karriker, Madden, and Katell (2017) found that shared leadership predicted
financial and strategic performance over and above the effects
of team size and team sex diversity. Carson and colleagues (2007)
revealed that shared leadership increased team performance in
consulting teams. Additionally, a study conducted by L. Wang and
colleagues (2017) suggested that shared leadership increased
employees’ extra‐role performance such as organizational citizenship
behaviors. Drawing on social identity theory, J. Zhu, Liao, Wang, and
Li (2017) found that shared leadership enhances team citizenship
behavior through team identification. Several studies specifically
reported that various types of shared leadership in entrepreneurial
teams (e.g., shared directive, transactional, transformational, and
empowering leadership, Ensley et al., 2006; shared authentic leadership,
Hmieleski et al., 2012) engendered new venture performance,
including revenue and employee growth (Ensley et al., 2006: shared
directive, transactional, transformational, and empowering leadership;
Hmieleski et al., 2012: shared authentic leadership). For example,
Ensley et al. (2006) reported that shared leadership predicted
team performance after controlling for vertical directive, transactional,
transformational, and empowering leadership in entrepreneurial
Beyond team performance, researchers have considered other
outcomes as well, such as team creativity and innovation. Hoch
(2013), for example, found that shared leadership increased team
members’ innovative behaviors. Likewise, Bligh et al. (2006) showed
that shared leadership enhanced team knowledge creation. Building
on social cognitive theory, Liang and Gu (2016) proposed that shared
leadership has a positive influence on creativity in knowledge‐work
teams through team potency. In addition to main effects, Hu et al.
(2017) explored the boundary effect of shared leadership on the
negative relation of conflict with creativity. They found that shared
leadership mitigated this negative relation, such that teams exhibited
higher creativity as a function of intermediate task conflict when they
had high (versus low) levels of shared leadership.

Finally, researchers have investigated how shared leadership affects
team members’ work‐related attitudes. G. Drescher and Garbers (2016)
found that shared leadership increased members’ team satisfaction.
Moreover, Serban and Roberts (2016) showed that shared leadership is
positively related to team members’ task satisfaction. Robert and You
(2017) also observed amoderating effect of shared leadership in shaping
team members’ job satisfaction, such that shared leadership strengthened
the relationship between employee trust and job satisfaction.
5.2.3 | Boundary conditions on the effects of shared
Extant research also provides evidence that the effects of shared leadership
are contingent on various moderators, including the content of
shared leadership, task characteristics, team characteristics, situational
factors, and operationalization of shared leadership. D. Wang et al.
(2014) conducted a meta‐analytical review, in which they found that
shared traditional forms of leadership (i.e., initiating structure and
consideration) had weaker effects on team effectiveness than did either
shared new‐genre leadership (e.g., transformational leadership, visionary
leadership, charismatic leadership, and empowering leadership) or cumulative
and overall shared leadership. They also found that task complexity
moderated the effects of shared leadership on team effectiveness, such
that the relationship was stronger when team tasks were more complex
compared with when tasks were less complex (Bligh et al., 2006). This
owed in part to the heightened demands for more than one individual
to play the leader role (Day et al., 2004; D. Wang et al., 2014).
Some researchers have also investigated the moderating roles of
task characteristics. Nicolaides et al. (2014) found that task interdependence
strengthened the relationship of shared leadership with
team performance, suggesting that shared leadership was most useful
within teams that required a great deal of coordination. Likewise, Bligh
et al. (2006) reported that task complexity and task interdependence
strengthened the effects of shared leadership on knowledge creation.
Lemoine, Koseoglu, and Blum (2015) found that shared leadership had
stronger relationships with team performance for creative tasks than
decision‐making tasks. Liu et al. (2014) found that the indirect effects
of shared leadership on team and individual learning behaviors
through psychological safety were more positive when team members
perceived high job variety.
Several studies have explored the moderating effects of team
characteristics on the effects of shared leadership.3 G. Drescher and

Garbers (2016) found that team commonality moderated the relationships
of shared leadership with team performance and team members’
job satisfaction, such that the relationships were stronger for teams
with high (versus low) commonality. They also found that team’s
communication patterns shaped the intensity of the effects of shared
leadership, such that shared leadership led to better performance and
greater satisfaction in virtual teams than it did in face‐to‐face teams.
Chiu et al. (2016) found that team members’ task‐related competence
strengthened the positive relationship of shared leadership with team
performance. Mihalache et al. (2014) suggested that connectedness
enhanced the effect of TMT shared leadership on ambidexterity.
Erkutlu (2012) showed that when teams had a supportive culture,
shared leadership was more likely to increase team members’ proactive
behaviors. D. Wang et al. (2014) reported that team stability of power
distance mitigated the positive effects of shared leadership on team
performance. Nicolaides et al. (2014) reported that team tenure was
another important moderator that influenced the effects of shared
leadership on team performance. In teams with shorter rather than
longer tenure, shared leadership had a stronger positive relation with
team performance. Furthermore, Waldman, Wang, and Zhang (2016)
investigated the moderating effect of team demographic fault lines on
the relationship between shared leadership and team performance.
They found that informational‐based fault lines enabled a positive
effect of shared leadership, whereas social category fault lines produced
a negative effect of shared leadership on team performance.
Finally, a meta‐analytical review conducted by D’Innocenzo et al.
(2016) reported that the way in which shared leadership is operationalized
is another boundary condition on the effects of shared leadership.
These authors found that when using network density and (de)
centralization approaches to measuring shared leadership, the relationship
of shared leadership with team performance was stronger,
compared to using aggregation‐based approaches. D’Innocenzo et al.
(2016) provided several explanations for this finding. Density and
decentralization indices from a network approach capture each
individual’s leadership influence, and these two indexes provide richer
and more informative measures of shared leadership than does an
overall rating of team members’ leadership influence. Moreover,
deriving the individual member’s influence from a network approach
minimizes the mental arithmetic (and thus errors and biases) that the
aggregation approaches require of respondents.
Our review suggests that although shared leadership has received
increased attention, there are many unchartered territories that await
future research. Below, we summarize particularly fertile topics and
emerging research questions.
6.1 | Refining understanding of shared leadership
While it is important to understand the common characteristics of
shared leadership, it is also important to contextualize our understanding
of shared leadership. In particular, the nature of shared leadership

might be different in cases whether the formal leader is involved or
not. In teams with formal team leaders, vertical leadership and shared
leadership may coexist, and shared leadership complements the leadership
functions provided by vertical leadership (e.g., Ensley et al.,
2006). As formal team leaders have the leadership authority, shared
leadership occurs when leadership activities or roles are “distributed”
or “passed” by the formal team leader to team members, such that
shared leadership involves “the encouragement of leadership from
below” (Pearce, Manz, & Sims, 2008, p. 354). That is, formal team
leaders empower or allow team members to participate in team leadership
or take on some leadership responsibilities (Denis et al., 2012;
Van Knippenberg, 2017). In contrast, in teams without a formal team
leader (e.g., self‐managed teams), team members can take on the
full‐range of leader roles needed within teams. As all leadership influences
are horizontal among peers in teams without a formal team
leader, the focus of shared leadership is on whether the overall leadership
influence is distributed widely among many team members or
around a few team members. Shared leadership can occur in multiple
formats, including that team members work together in time and place
to co‐perform the same leadership activity, that team members take
turns to serve in the leadership role, and that team members take on
differentiated leadership roles (e.g., each team member takes
responsibility for one or a few leadership roles). Given that the nature
of shared leadership might be different in different situations (e.g.
whether the formal leader is involved or not), we encourage future
research to explore whether shared leadership in these two distinct
contexts yield differences in team processes.
In addition, the “social network approach” has advanced our understanding
of shared leadership by explicating the amount of leadership
displayed by each team member and the configuration of shared leadership.
Yet, so far, this line of research has not articulated the content
of shared leadership (i.e., which leadership function is performed by
who). For example, Carson and colleagues (2007) focus on the extent
to which overall leadership was shared among team members. According
to the functional leadership theory (Morgeson et al., 2010), there
are multiple leadership functions in work teams. To clearly understand
how leadership is shared within the team, it is important to articulate
whether team members differentiated their roles in collectively engaging
in team leadership or they co‐perform the same leadership functions.
To address this issue, we encourage future research to take on
a function‐based approach to understand shared leadership. For example,
studies could consider both the team leadership functions needed
in the team and the persons who take on each of the leadership
functions. Studies could also investigate whether it is more effective
to let different team members take on different leadership functions
or it is more effective to let team members co‐perform all leadership
6.2 | Improving the operationalization of shared
As we reviewed, researchers have provided a number of measures of
shared leadership (e.g., Carson et al., 2007; Mehra et al., 2006). These
measures contribute considerably to the burgeoning stream of
research on shared leadership. Nonetheless, new methods are needed

to capture important aspects of shared leadership more precisely.
First, both leadership structure density (i.e., the amount of leadership
being shared) and decentralization (i.e., the distribution pattern of
leadership influence) are essential to assess shared leadership (DeRue
et al., 2015). Extant research, however, tends to operationalize shared
leadership by focusing on either density or decentralization, but not
both. Therefore, we call for future research to develop composite
measures that appropriately capture both the amount of leadership
being shared and their distribution pattern.
Second, Carson et al.’s (2007) shared leadership measure is
currently the most frequently used measure of shared leadership. This
measure asked every team member to rate each of his or her teammates
(from 1 = not at all to 5 = to a very great extent) on the following
question: “To what degree does your team rely on this individual for
leadership?” This measure captures the configuration of the leadership
network, yet the content (e.g., the specific leadership behavior or leadership
roles) has been overlooked. Thus, another promising direction
for future research is to develop measures that capture both the
configuration of leadership and the content being shared. For example,
future research could integrate shared leadership and functional
leadership research (e.g., Morgeson et al., 2010) and ask every team
member to rate each of his or her teammates’ leadership influence
for every leadership function.
Third, beyond survey methodology, some researchers are starting
to use innovative methods to capture shared leadership. For example,
H. Zhu, Kraut, Wang, and Kittur (2011) captured shared leadership
using trace data from Wikipedia. This novel method provides a new
way to detect shared leadership by utilizing objective and archival data
on shared leadership activities. With an ever‐increasing number of
companies recording various aspects of employees’ work activities,
this method may provide a powerful way to track the dynamics of
shared leadership over time in natural settings. Likewise,
M. A. Drescher et al. (2014) used trace data from a simulation game
to capture shared leadership. Bergman et al. (2012) assessed shared
leadership by behaviorally coding videotapes of team discussion.
These innovative methods enriched our knowledge by providing novel
perspectives to look at shared leadership. Following these examples,
we call for more creative methods in future research to investigate
shared leadership more fully.
6.3 | Developing a unified theoretical framework for
shared leadership research
Our thorough review of shared leadership literature reveals that a
diverse range of theories have been utilized to study shared leadership.
Among these theories, adaptive leadership theory (DeRue,
2011; DeRue & Ashford, 2010), social information processing theory
(Salancik & Pfeffer, 1978), and social learning theory (Bandura, 2001)
are the major theoretical foundations for scholars to explain the emergence
of shared leadership (e.g., Chiu et al., 2016; DeRue et al., 2015).
Social identity theory (Hogg & Terry, 2000), social cognition theory
(Bandura, 1977), affective events theory (Weiss & Cropanzano,
1996), and role theory (Biddle, 1979) have been drawn to explicate
the effects of shared leadership (e.g., Hmieleski et al., 2012; Hsu
et al., 2017; Liang & Gu, 2016; Liu et al., 2014).

Although these theories helped enhance the knowledge of shared
leadership, there appears to be little consensus regarding a unifying
theory of shared leadership. We thus encourage future research to
explore an overarching theoretical framework of shared leadership.
For example, scholars could draw on relational models theory of
group‐level leadership emergence (Wellman, 2017) to better understand
the emergence of shared leadership. As highlighted by Wellman
(2017), most theories of individual‐focused leadership emergence suffer
from three common limitations when applied to the shared leadership
context: (a) They do not consider the potential for group‐level
dynamics in the leadership generation process, (b) they underestimate
the importance of context, and (c) they assume that leadership activity
in groups does not change once it has emerged. Thus, there is a strong
need to develop contextually grounded, group‐level theory of leadership
emergence. Moreover, scholars could draw on the relational theory
of leadership (Uhl‐Bien, 2006) and functional leadership theory
(Morgeson et al., 2010) to study the relational dynamics in the leadership
sharing process and how those relational dynamics affect team
6.4 | Temporal dynamics of shared leadership
Scholars have highlighted that shared leadership is a time‐varying
construct (e.g., Pearce & Conger, 2003). However, research on the
dynamics of shared leadership has just started to emerge (Aime,
Humphrey, DeRue, & Paul, 2014; M. A. Drescher et al., 2014;
L. Wang, Han, et al., 2017). To obtain a finer grained understanding
of the dynamics of shared leadership, we identified a set of interesting
and important research questions that need further attention.
First, the need for leadership from certain individuals will ebb and
flow over time as tasks and strategies change (e.g., switching
between exploration and exploitation). This raises some questions.
For example, how does the team identify and respond to the need
for change in shared leadership? How does the team handle the
redistribution of leadership influence if transitions are needed? What
critical team processes and emergent states are involved in such
transitions? How does the team regulate commensurate changes in
power and influence among its members during these leadership
Second, teams have different needs for leadership during team’s
transition phase and action phase (Morgeson et al., 2010). As such,
the emergence and effectiveness of shared leadership may change
over different team phases (i.e., transition and action phases). It is
possible that leadership roles tend to concentrate on the formal team
leaders during team transition phases and be shared among team
members during team action phases.
Third, both vertical leadership and shared leadership are
important for teams (Pearce, 2004), which creates the possibility that
teams may need to shift between these two types of leadership across
different team stages and/or situations. For example, when teams
face time pressures or crises, a shift from shared leadership to vertical
leadership may allow for more powerful allocation of resources.
Future research could investigate the factors that trigger the shift
between shared leadership and vertical leadership, and to explore
how the shift influences teamwork process and effectiveness.

Although considerable research has investigated the outcomes of
shared leadership, research on the antecedents of shared leadership is
still in its infancy. First, and perhaps most important, extant antecedent‐
focused research on shared leadership tends to neglect organizational
level or structure‐based factors that can promote or inhibit
shared leadership. We thus encourage future research to specifically
target such antecedents. For example, a team’s dispersion of power or
status differentials may influence the expression of shared leadership.
Teams with minimal power and status differentials might tend to display
shared leadership. Likewise, human resource practices, such as
group‐based performance appraisal or reward, may play a role in facilitating
shared leadership. When such practices motivate team members
to cooperate with each other rather than to compete, shared leadership
may be more likely to occur and may also be more effective (Pearce &
Sims, 2000).
Second, the formal team leader’s role in the emergence of shared
leadership may deserve further investigation (Carson et al., 2007). A
team leader with high managerial openness may encourage team members
to assume leadership roles. A dysfunctional or incompetent formal
team leader may increase the need for team members to undertake
some leadership responsibilities, yet such a formal team leader may
be less capable of effectively guiding the team members to share leadership
and addressing problems in the sharing process. Whether shared
leadership is more likely to occur in teams with an incompetent formal
team leader is an intriguing question that deserves serious exploration.
Furthermore, future research could investigate leadership styles that
are detrimental to the emergence of shared leadership. For example,
future research could investigate whether authorization leadership or
abusive supervision has a negative effect on the emergence of shared
leadership and if yes, what are the underlying mechanisms. Leaders in
general display high levels of abusive supervision or authorization leadership;
followers tend to have lower psychological safety, decreasing
the tendency of their attempts to claim leadership roles.
Third, team characteristics and composition may be important
antecedents of shared leadership (Conger & Pearce, 2003). Despite
the existing investigations of several specific team characteristics, there
is still much space for further exploration along this research line. For
example, when teams experience rapid changes in membership (e.g.,
employee turnover or entries of newcomers), shared leadership may
encounter disturbance. Besides, the abilities, motivations, and relationship
qualities of team members may also influence whether shared
leadership is more or less likely to emerge. For example, members with
low motivations to lead may not work together to produce shared leadership.
Besides, team members with low‐quality relationships may be
reluctant to accept others’ influence, which hinders the effective development
of shared leadership. Team tenure could also be a possible predictor
of the emergence of shared leadership, where shared leadership
may be less likely to occur in earlier stages when teams are forming, and
norms are emerging.
Fourth, little research has investigated the effects of prior leader–
team interactions on the emergence of shared leadership. Yet prior
leader–team interaction is likely to be a key antecedent of shared
leadership. One reason is that shared leadership requires collective
identity (Venus, Mao, Lanaj, & Johnson, 2012). When prior leader–

likely to emerge. However, if prior interactions enhance an individual
or self‐focused identity, then shared leadership will be stymied. For
example, if the formal leader promotes differentiated levels of LMX
that create visible distinctions between team members, members will
develop strong individual identities that in turn prohibit the emergence
of shared leadership within the team. Thus, whether and how
prior leader–team interactions influence the emergence of shared
leadership is an intriguing question that deserves exploration.
Fifth, few studies have investigated the boundary conditions for
antecedents of shared leadership. For example, L. Wang and colleagues
(2017) found that servant leadership alleviates the negative
effect of LMX differentiation on shared leadership. Carson et al.
(2007) found that the positive effect of internal team environment
on shared leadership was contingent on teams with low supportive
coaching behaviors from external team leaders. Kukenberger et al.
(2011) showed that team functional diversity had a positive effect
on shared leadership only when teams implemented highly cooperative
conflict management practice. Given that there are so few studies
on the boundary condition of the antecedents of shared leadership,
we suggest this as another area of future research direction.
Lastly, as an increasing number of empirical studies have investigated
the antecedents of shared leadership, a meta‐analytical review
on the antecedents of shared leadership shall be helpful to guide
future research.
6.6 | Outcomes and mediating mechanisms of
shared leadership
To demonstrate the value of shared leadership, scholars have linked
shared leadership to several critical work outcomes such as task performance
and creativity. Scholars could further advance this line of
research in several ways. First, beyond the outcomes that have been
examined, future research could include a wider range of outcomes
pertaining different entities and at different levels. For example, it would
be interesting to examine whether shared leadership could influence
firm‐level outcomes such as corporate social responsibility and competitive
advantage. It is also interesting to examine whether shared leadership
could influence a variety of individual behaviors and well‐being.
Second, as theory develops, future research should advance and
explore the potential mediating mechanisms linking shared leadership
to work outcomes. For example, shared leadership may facilitate a
bunch of team emergent states and team properties including team
mindfulness, team monitoring, team back‐up behavior, team reflexivity,
team absorb capability, and team knowledge integration capability,
which in turn could lead to better team performance. Furthermore, the
frequent leading–following interaction among team members may
help the team develop collective team cognitions, such as a shared
mental model and transactive memory systems.
Lastly, scholars have suggested that organizations can develop
deliberate managerial intervention or training programs to nourish
shared leadership (Day et al., 2004; Denis et al., 2012; Pearce & Manz,
2005). This effort is valuable as it can provide practitioners with a tool
to enhance shared leadership and it can also help scholars to address
the causality issue of the relationship between shared leadership and

team outcomes. Yet little research has used intervention or training to
study shared leadership. We invite future research to develop shared
leadership intervention or training and study the effectiveness of
shared leadership using an experimental research design. Future
research could also compare a shared leadership intervention with
other types of leadership interventions (e.g., transformational or
empowering leadership interventions).
6.7 | Potential boundary conditions on the
effectiveness of shared leadership
Besides those already identified in published works, a number of
potential boundary conditions of shared leadership should be investigated.
First, the effectiveness of shared leadership depends on competently
integrating team members’ expertise and contributions.
Therefore, social‐related factors that stimulate team members to
cooperate or compete may influence the effectiveness of shared leadership.
For example, shared leadership may be more effective when
the team has a collective identity that facilitates sharing leadership,
as opposed to members holding more independent or individual identities
(Venus et al., 2012). When the team lacks a collective identity,
shared leadership is unlikely to be effective due to a lack of goal congruence
among team members. LMX differentiation may undermine
cooperation among team members, and thus LMX differentiation
might mitigate, or even reverse the direction of relations between
shared leadership and team outcomes. Also, effective shared leadership
requires the team to match tasks, expertise, and persons. Thus,
a transactive memory system is likely to be an important boundary
condition of the effectiveness of shared leadership.
Second, future research should focus on a more detailed understanding
of the best practices of shared leadership. Our review identifies
different ways to share the leadership. For example, team
members can collectively engage in all leadership roles or they can take
on different leadership roles and perform different functions (Contractor
et al., 2012). The ways leadership is shared beg the following question:
How should leadership be shared to maximize effectiveness?
Moreover, contingency theories of leadership suggest that the effectiveness
of leadership depends on the specific situations. Therefore,
another important question could be the match between the way leadership
is shared and the specific situations. Improved understanding of
these questions not only contribute to the fine‐grained theorization of
shared leadership but also has important practical implications.
Third, the effectiveness of shared leadership may depend on the
work groups in which it operates. For example, team‐based knowledge
work may benefit more from developing shared leadership (Pearce,
2004), because the involvement in leadership activities are motivating
to knowledge workers. In sum, although the literature assumes positive
effects of shared leadership on work outcomes, we suggest that
future research explore additional boundary conditions that might
strengthen, mitigate, or even flip such relationships.
6.8 | Potential dark side of shared leadership
Our review identifies that current research has focused predominantly
on the bright side of shared leadership. To date, knowledge on the

potential dark side of shared leadership is lacking. Like other positive
leadership constructs such as empowering leadership (e.g., Sharma &
Kirkman, 2015), we suggest that shared leadership researchers should
explore its potential dark side as well.
There is a set of interesting research issues surrounding when and
for whom shared leadership is harmful. For example, as shared leadership
is a more complex and time‐consuming process compared with
traditional vertical leadership (Pearce, 2004), teams with high levels
of shared leadership may take more time to reach consensus, resulting
in lower efficiency in decision‐making. This could be a challenge
especially in industries with high environmental dynamism. Moreover,
shared leadership is associated with dispersion of responsibility; thus,
the issues of free riding and social loafing may emerge in shared leadership
contexts, especially in large teams. Also, shared leadership
might be associated with groupthink, especially in teams with low
cognitive diversity.
Another potential drawback of shared leadership is that equal
influence among team members may not be necessarily desirable
(Locke, 2003), even though getting more members involved would
increase the level of shared leadership. When all team members
attempt to lead the team, issues such as conflicts, coordination failures,
and information overload will likely arise. Individuals also differ
in their leadership capabilities and motivation to lead. On the one
hand, some team members who are suitable for certain leadership
roles because of their expertise may not desire such leadership roles
(e.g., low motivation to lead) or even avoid taking leadership responsibilities.
On the other hand, those with relatively stronger motivation to
lead may share in more leadership functions, yet who is nevertheless
not the most suitable or competent member. Although the implicit
assumption in shared leadership research suggests that it is a positive
construct, future research should discuss when equal or differentiated
involvement in shared leadership should be pursued or avoided.
A final potential drawback of shared leadership is that it may have
some undesirable consequences for formal team leaders. For example,
the formal team leader might experience psychological territory
infringement when team members attempt to take the leadership
roles. Shared leadership may slow or inhibit the development of leadership
capabilities of formal leaders. Shared leadership may be threatening
to leaders, thus reducing their leadership self‐efficacy and
motivation to lead. Simply put, we suggest that while shared leadership
has many benefits for teams, it may also be detrimental under
certain team contexts. We, therefore, recommend that scholars examine
the potential downsides of shared leadership so that they can be
effectively managed.
6.9 | The interplay of vertical leadership and shared
There are complex relations between formal leadership and shared
leadership. Shared leadership and other formal leadership behaviors
mutually influence each other. Past research has tended to position
formal leadership as a predictor of shared leadership, and hence we
discuss these possibilities. First, formal leadership may act as an
important factor that influences the emergence of shared leadership
(e.g., Carson et al., 2007; Chiu et al., 2016). As we discussed in the

review of antecedents of shared leadership, empowering leadership,
servant leadership, leader humility, and supportive coaching behaviors
of external team leaders enhance the emergence of shared leadership.
Moreover, formal leadership styles may also serve as boundary conditions
on the effects of shared leadership (e.g., vertical leadership; Hsu
et al., 2017). For example, LMX differentiation moderates the effect of
shared leadership on team identity, such that the relationship between
shared leadership and team identity is stronger in teams with low
rather than high LMX differentiation (J. Zhu et al., 2017). Furthermore,
shared leadership may affect the development and consequences of
certain formal leadership. For example, when team members more frequently
take the leadership functions and coordinate well, the formal
leader is likely to grant more latitude to team members. Building from
this perspective, shared leadership may trigger empowering leadership,
and it may also make empowering leadership more effective.
Our review has provided conceptual clarity and structure to the
expanding shared leadership literature. By identifying the three key
characteristics of shared leadership, we provide an approach to understand
shared leadership and differentiate it from similar constructs. In
addition, this review has provided an integrative framework that
summarizes the extant knowledge and identifies potential avenues
for future research. We hope that this review spurs further research
in the shared leadership literature, and we look forward to learning
about new discoveries and insights regarding teams in which leadership
roles and influence are distributed among members.
We thank the Editor, Marie Dasborough, and two anonymous
reviewers for their constructive feedback and helpful guidance
throughout the review process.
This research was supported by Singapore Ministry of Education
Research Grant Academic Research Fund Tier 1 (R‐317‐000‐132‐
115) and by the Research Grants Council of the Hong Kong Special
Administrative Region, China (GRF Project Code ‐ LU 13500817).
Kai Chi Yam
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Jinlong Zhu is an assistant professor at the Renmin University of
China. He received his PhD from the National University of
Singapore. His research focuses on shared leadership, team
creativity, and entrepreneurship. Currently, he is passionate in
understanding the best practices of shared leadership and the
dynamics of shared leadership.
Zhenyu Liao is a postdoctoral fellow in Olin Business School,
Washington University in St. Louis. He received his PhD degree

from the National University of Singapore. His research primarily
focuses on leadership behavior and dynamics. His work has been
published in management journals such as the Academy of Management
Journal and Journal of Applied Psychology. He has won
the OB Best Paper Award at the 2015 Academy of Management
Kai Chi Yam is an assistant professor at the National University of
Singapore Business School. His research focuses primarily on
behavioral ethics, leadership, and humor. His work has been published
in premier journals such as Academy of Management Journal,
Academy of Management Review, Journal of Applied Psychology,
Organizational Behavioral and Human Decision Processes, and Journal
of Organizational Behavior. His work has received multiple Best
Paper Awards and has been featured extensively (e.g., The Times
and Harvard Business Review). In 2016, Sam was named by Poets
and Quants as one of the Best 40 under 40 Business Professors in
the world.
Russell E. Johnson is an associate professor of management at
Michigan State University. His research examines the role of
motivation‐, leadership‐, and justice‐based processes that underlie
employee attitudes and behavior. His research has been published
in Academy of Management Journal, Academy of Management
Review, Journal of Applied Psychology, Organizational Behavior and
Human Decision Processes, Personnel Psychology, Journal of Organizational
Behavior, Psychological Bulletin, and Research in Organizational
Behavior, among other journals, and he was an associate
editor at Academy of Management Review. In 2013, Dr. Johnson
received the Distinguished Early Career Contributions Award for
Science from the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology.
In 2018, he received the Cummings Scholarly Achievement
Award from the Organizational Behavior Division of
Academy of Management.
How to cite this article: Zhu J, Liao Z, Yam KC, Johnson RE.
Shared leadership: A state‐of‐the‐art review and future
research agenda. J Organ Behav. 2018;39:834–852. https://