Distributing leadership in an organization brings more people to the table to contribute to and make decisions. The more an organization distributes leadership, the more ideas can inform the ways it allocates resources, experiments with programs, and determines its strategic direction. Bringing more people and possibilities into decisions can lead an organization in unknown and therefore riskier directions, more often for the better, but sometimes for the worse. The collective responsibility that individuals feel when an organization distributes decision-making processes and power motivates them to do their part to ensure the best possible outcome. Further, should a decision go awry, more people—rather than a sole decision maker—absorb the fallout from subsequent ripple effects.
Many organizations turn to distributed leadership because of a belief that staff in all parts of the organization have the potential to lead in some way, to some degree. Ideally, when staff across an organization feel empowered as leaders in their own right, they become, by extension, more collaborative, trusting, and committed to the work. Rather than eliminating positional authority, the seven organizations in the case studies distribute leadership to varying degrees and through different processes, requiring them to examine and sometimes reconfigure how they allocate positional authority.