15 Advantages and Disadvantages of Distributed Leadership Styles

When you are using a distributed leadership style, you are working to push the authority deeper into the organization. You want to have it distributed throughout the company to give people directed responsibilities on tasks for which they are responsible.

Many leaders believe they need to be fully responsible for everything that comes their way. When they are not fully responsible, it makes them feel like they are out of control. It creates a situation where the leader is overworked, less confident about the outcomes being produced, and this eventually leads to a distrustful working environment.

By giving as many leaders as much responsibility as possible throughout the company, multiple people take a share of the responsibility instead of relying on a single person or the executive team.

List of the Advantages of Distributed Leadership Styles

1. It gives the company more options.
If there is only one leader who is charged with making decisions for the company, then what happens if that leader becomes unavailable? When there is a push towards distributed leadership, there are more options available for the company. More people are given the authority to make decisions that are needed. You are no longer forced to wait for the sole decision-maker to make up their mind.

2. It retains elements of the traditional chain-of-command.
Many companies still focus on a leadership style that features command and control features. They want to make sure that each person knows which person their direct superior is. That way, each worker knows what their role is within the company. With distributed leadership styles, you’re able to maintain the traditional chain-of-command while being able to offer more leaders a chance to make decisions on behalf of the company.

3. It shares the bigger picture with everyone.
When there is one person charged with making every decision and being fully responsible for everything, then that person is the only one who truly knows what the big picture happens to be. With distributed leadership styles, you’re able to distribute this vision to every layer of the organization. It gives the company a chance to take advantage of the different levels of technical expertise or wisdom that is at a lower tier of the company.

4. It allows people to take ownership over their work.
When people are permitted to use their creativity and experiences to complete their job duties, then they take more psychological ownership of the work being done. That buy-in creates outcomes that are completed with a higher quality. It encourages more productivity, creates greater commitment levels, and this leads to a long-term increase in employee performance. Within this structure, employees at every level are more likely to engage, develop, and stay loyal.

5. It provides upward movement opportunities.
If a business is not giving their talented workers a chance to earn a promotion or some kind of upward movement within their corporate structure, then they are going to lose that talent. Only a rare few will actually work in the same position of a long time period and be happy with the same pay and benefits. People want to take on more responsibilities as they become more experienced. The distributed leadership styles help to make that possible.

6. It creates the potential for a substantive change in the organization.
If a company is using a leadership model where one person makes all the decisions, then the organization is completely reliant on that individual’s creativity and drive. If you lose that person, then you lose what defines you as an organization. Under this leadership style, you’re able to combine the commitment, creativity, and generosity of each worker into something much greater than a single person could ever provide. When that happens, you can see many positive changes begin to happen.

7. It gives everyone a chance to serve.
When a distributed leadership style is initiated, anyone can be a leader. The position may be a formal supervisory role within the company, such as an entry-level manager. You could also extend leadership positions to specific projects, initiatives, or forums that are regularly performed under the company umbrella. This gives everyone who wants a chance to get a taste of corporate leadership to get it.

8. It emphasizes honesty.
When a direct leadership style is being used, then the organization must be built on a foundation of open and honest communication. You cannot offer hypothetical situations or attempt to be something or someone you are not in this structure. The company relies on each leader to present their expertise at all times, even if it runs contrary to what other leaders may think or feel at the time.

9. It provides opportunities for mutual learning.
When leaders are found throughout an organization, it gives each person a chance to expand their own horizons. Instead of feeling like one small team or an individual is superior to everyone, people feel like there is a level of equality that encourages discussion and learning under this leadership structure. People look to find common ground more often, share their relevant knowledge, and create stronger bonds for the good of everyone.

List of the Disadvantages of Distributed Leadership Styles

1. It can be a struggle to maintain accountability.
When there is only one leader in charge of everything, then you know who to hold accountable when something happens to go wrong. If there are multiple leaders who are given elements of responsibility, but not in its entirety, then who is held accountable when a project is not up to standards? When leadership is distributed, there must be clear definitions of which roles are responsible for specific duties or outcomes to ensure accountability is retained.

2. It slows down the decision-making process.
If there is only one person responsible for making decisions within an organization, then the speed of implementation can be quite high. When there are multiple voices able to contribute to these processes, then every opinion wants a chance to be heard. That makes things move more slowly, which is a disadvantage during a crisis situation. Although more diversity ultimately adds strength to the organizational structure, leaders can also find themselves feeling powerless if an important decision must be made quickly.

3. It creates an expectation of importance.
When the distributed leadership style is implemented, leaders expect to have their opinions heard. They feel like their voices should matter whenever a decision needs to be made. If you have many voices contributing ideas, there will always be people who feel like they are being excluded. If this occurs frequently, then some leaders will feel left out. They may seek out alternative employment. At the very least, you’re stuck trying to make amends to people who feel like their opinions were not valued.

4. It generates a certain level of uncertainty.
Diverse opinions do create more strength over time. In the present moment, when a critical decision must be made, a distributed leadership style will also cause a lack of confidence to appear. The consensus decisions may not be the right course of action to take. Unless there is one person who can override this consensus decision, the organization may find itself going in the wrong direction. Having that person in an override position also negates many of the benefits which come with this leadership style.

5. It requires leaders to have specified experience.
Leaders who receive responsibilities under this structure must be well-versed in their duties. They are going to be niche experts, providing critical feedback to the company while they help their team and division grow. If a leader is placed into such a position without the necessary experience to make this happen, then the results are often disastrous. Even though multiple people are involved in leadership, each leader must still have the capability of making a critical decision when necessary.

6. It can foster arguments.
The goal of a distributed leaderships style is to find common ground through shared experiences toward a common vision. If that common vision is not shared, or if the steps to reach it are not agreed upon, the decision-making process can become fraught with arguments. It creates disharmony because battle lines are drawn. If you don’t agree with a certain premise, then you become an “enemy” to the greater good.

The advantages and disadvantages of distributed leadership styles show us that when more people are involved in leadership, there is greater creativity, diversity, and empowerment. These advantages come at the cost of speed, accountability, and confidence. By recognizing these potentially negative elements as they appear, an organization can limit their influence and take advantage of all the benefits without much fear of losing industry influence.

Author Biography
Keith Miller has over 25 years of experience as a CEO and serial entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur, he has founded several multi-million dollar companies. As a writer, Keith's work has been mentioned in CIO Magazine, Workable, BizTech, and The Charlotte Observer. If you have any questions about the content of this blog post, then please send our content editing team a message here.