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Distributed Leadership Case Study

Q1) Provide a brief description of the leadership example you have selected and explain why you have done so (200 words). Provide your sources of evidence in an appendix to the TMA. (10 marks)

For the purpose of this TMA, I have chosen to focus on the collective leadership practices within the NHS healthcare system, namely, The Kings Fund (see Appendix A for The Kings Fund website homepage). The Kings Fund is ‘an independent charity working in England to achieve the vision that the best possible health and care is available to all’ (The King’s Fund, 2019). The organisations online materials drew my attention with its visual presentations and use of language. It cleverly conveys a shared and inclusive approach to leadership.

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After extensive research into this area of the healthcare system, I have discovered that The King’s Fund strongly trusts in the ethos that collective leadership means everyone taking responsibility for the success of the organisation as a whole and not just for their own jobs or work area. (Appendix B shows an article heading from The Kings Fund about collective leadership) It is a stark contrast from the traditional approach to leadership which as a noun usually means attributing leadership to an individual’s personality and actions as representative of a whole organisation or leadership approach. The cultures of collective leadership in the NHS healthcare system are characterised by the fact that all staff are focused on continuous learning and through this, are improving patient care. (See Appendix C which shows a logo used on The Kings Fund, it symbolises moving forward)

(191 Words – Excluding Appendix Indicators)

Q2) Analyse the example in respect of collective leadership using two concepts drawn from Block 3 (1400 words). (60 marks)

For my analysis I have chosen to focus on the concept of Distributed Leadership (Bennett et al, 2003) coupled with the concept of Leaderful Practice (Raelin, 2003 and 2011).

It has been suggested that distributed leadership is neither a model nor a style but instead a way of thinking about leadership. This moves attention away from the traditional focus on one’s individual skills and competencies (Spillane, 2005). During my research into The Kings Fund, I have come to learn that it too rejects the notion that there must be a leader and a follower. It supports Spillane’s (2005) ideology that the focus should shift onto the relationships and interactions between those at all levels of an organisation. It believes that collective leadership, as opposed to command-and-control structures, provides the optimum basis for caring cultures (The Kings Fund, 2019). One of the programmes created by The Kings Fund was put in place to help health care professionals work more collaboratively with patient leaders. This includes doctors, clinicians, practice managers and patients. The aim of the programme is to help those aforementioned to build productive relationships and explore how different roles and perspectives can be a constructive force for change.

In addition to Spillane’s (2005) ideas, Bennett et al, (2003) identifies three main elements of distributed leadership. Firstly, when applied, distributed leadership increases the number of individuals with designated leadership roles within an organisation. In comparison, The Kings Fund sees leadership as a team effort. It accepts that the ‘NHS boards bear ultimate responsibility for developing strategies for coherent, effective and forward-looking collective leadership’ (The Kings Fund, 2018). When evaluating this for the purpose of analysis, I like to think that when individuals work together in a way that their expertise is pooled, the result is a product of strength and vigor that is greater than the sum of similar actions carried out by individuals. However, it is worth noting that distributed leadership does have some limitations. A distribution of leadership can only work if everyone is on board with the concept. It must be channeled from the most senior level in an organisation. This way, if it is promoted and practiced at a senior level, there is more chance that the concept will be successfully adopted by individuals.

Below is an image which I feel best sums up the entire distributed leadership theory of (Bennett et al, 2003)

Taken from P42 of Readings Block 2: Collective Leadership

The second element of the theory set out by (Bennet et al, 2003) is one which recognises that individuals from different backgrounds and with various skillsets, can contribute greatly to a collaborative leadership. The Kings Fund programme requires pairs from the same local health divisions to work as a collective unit, sharing their experience and expertise in their respective fields. The idea is to take an open-minded senior clinician or manager with an and pair them with a patient or other healthcare user. When both parties come together, they must share their experiences of the health care system. The aim of this is to help shape a better service and lead change within the system. We can see a photograph below, taken from The Kings Fund ‘Leading collaboratively with patients and communities’ programme literature. In the picture we can see two people, however, it is interesting to note that if these people are from the programme, it is hard to distinguish who is the healthcare professional and who is the patient. From a leadership perspectivism, this picture is very much suggesting that this pair are in some way leading together.


The third and last element in the distributed leadership theory (Bennett et al, 2003) insists that ‘distributed leadership should be a property of a group of interacting individuals rather than of the individual in isolation’. This suggests that that access to leadership practice must remain open and available to all. This reflects on the ‘identity’ element of distributed leadership. With this said, it is also important to note that theoretically speaking, distributed leadership is not about increasing the number of leadership roles within an organisation, but instead it ‘focuses on the ways in which individuals with formal leadership roles, and without, pool their skills and influence over one another’ (Bolden, 2011). The Kings Fund identifies with this in its collaborative leadership programme however, it doesn’t focus on bringing a huge group of people together, but instead pairs. The Kings Fund believes that together, each pair will learn from each other and support one another with the purpose of progressing on ‘real time challenges’ within the healthcare system. The programme also offers the ‘opportunity to build sustainable relationships between patient leaders and healthcare professionals.’ If successful, the local health care system will benefit from the development of a new collaborative team with a shared experience and outlook on what needs to be different coupled with the ‘support to create new models of care that are co-designed with patients and communities’. (Kings Fund, 2019)

Through research on the concept of distributed leadership, I have been able to identify how certain roles are deliberately dispersed through the leadership effort as outlined in The Kings Fund literature, whereas the concept of leaderful practice offers a more complementary view. Leaderful practice focuses more on the practices involved in the work of a collective leadership. However, Raelin (2017) not only focuses his attention on the advantages of collective leadership, but he also recognises the objections and fears of the challengers. Collective leadership is considered remote because it challenges the traditional vision of leadership as an attractive and individualistic quality that not only protects us but is also effective when applied. Raelin (2017) believes that in order to move towards a society whereby collective leadership is viable “we will need to challenge our leadership behavior across a number of dimensions. It can no longer occur solely as a vertical transmission of instructions; it needs to occur laterally across a range of individuals connected to each other. It must consequently shift from being authority-based to practice-based or from procedure adherence to contestable moments. It will occur within a specific context rather than as a generic style, and apropos of this provocation, it will be anchored by a constellation of complementary co-leaders”. Raelin’s (2017) emphasis is therefore far more on the practice of leadership throughout an organisation rather than on structure; as seen in the distributed leadership theory outlined by (Bennett et al, 2003).

Raelin (2003) has characterised leaderful practice into the ‘4 C’s’: Concurrent, collective, collaborative and compassionate. Leaderful organisations value and take account for its members and sees them as participative, democratic, learning communities.

Firstly, concurrent suggests that ‘more than one leader can operate at the same time’ (Raelin,2003). In helping to build collaborative leadership across the UK’s healthcare organisations, The Kings Fund has implemented the ‘concurrent’ characteristic as outlined by (Raelin, 2003).  ‘In many parts of the United Kingdom, NHS providers, commissioners, local authorities and third sector organisations are working together, at a time of intense financial pressure, to re-design local health and care services’ (The Kings Fund, 2019).  Next, collective offers the idea that leadership should be recognised as a plural rather than individual. It gives the impression that leadership is a team effort. We see this in the Kings Fund literature (West, M. et al, 2014) where it states that ‘collective leadership represents a new way of sharing power, ensuring that leadership and expertise are correlated at every level in relation to every task. It also represents a strategy for integrating leadership collectively across the organisation’. Here, similarly to Raelin’s (2003) ideology, The Kings Fund recognises that roles of leadership and followership change depending on requirements. It believes that organisations cannot work in isolation to achieve the best possible care.  Thirdly, in Raelin’s (2003) work, collaborative leadership is characterised as being non-judgemental. It opposes the idea of controlling leadership. It grants team members the freedom to share their ideas within an open forum, have those ideas critically analysed and challenged from within. It is important to note that this is exercised in a positive manner for a positive outcome. If we look at the dictionary definition of the word collaboration, it states ‘the action of working with someone to produce something’ (collinsdictionary.com, 2019). This epitomises everything that The Kings Fund is about.  Raelin’s (2003) final ‘C’ Compassion is evident in the The Kings Fund programme (2019) as it recognises the ‘need to value and preserve the dignity of every individual’, both within and outside of the Health Service organisation (Raelin, 2003).

In the same way as distributed leadership, leaderful practice too comes with its limitations. It is not always easy to get everyone on board with this concept. Not everyone in the group may agree or respond positively to the absence of a hierarchical structure. Collinson et al (2017) notes that ‘leaderful practice has been criticised for offering too positive a view of leadership’. I must agree with this as I read over my analysis above. The idea of leaderful practice is great in theory but may not always be the easiest to implement.

(1,517 Words)

Q3) Using at least one concept from Block 3, offer written advice to the leader(s) or related organisation within your leadership example in respect of how they could develop and improve collective leadership practice (400 words). (20 marks)

The Kings Fund have already developed a great incentive programme for the development of a collective leadership within the NHS (The Kings Fund, 2014). The programme takes a leader (doctor) and couples them with a follower (patient) with the aim of creating a shared understanding of the quality problems facing the health service. The end goal is to come up with a shared solution that is of benefit to all users of the healthcare system, whether it be as an employee or a service user. The idea behind this is to dispel the concept of ‘the heroic leader’ (Gronn, 2002) and replace it with shared and distributed leadership. Cunliffe and Erikson (2011) conceptualise relational leadership as ‘a way of being and relating with others’. I think that this is something The Kings Fund have overlooked in their programme literature. Undeniably, The Kings Fund have already adopted a collective approach to leadership whilst emphasising the importance of leadership practice however, it is worth noting that the practice of leadership is reliant on how people relate to one another. So, although The Kings Fund are offering this innovative programme, its execution may not be without its challenges. Whilst relational leadership doesn’t mean that participants have to be great friends, it does imply that individuals should take a more conscious approach to how they relate to each other in the interest of leading and following together as one. For example, it may be difficult for a doctor to accept that they are on the same level as a patient and in contrast, a patient may feel inferior to the doctor in a professional capacity. This implies that ‘rational leadership is naïve about the impact of power differentials and people’s material inequalities’ (Jacklin-Jarvis, 2018). Other factors may impact on the development of leadership such as the hesitance to distribute leadership away from the upper levels of an organisation. The road towards collective leadership may not always run smooth therefore, my advice to the Kings Fund would be that following on from these ideas, leadership needs to be understood in terms of leadership practices and organisational interventions rather than just personal behavioural style or competences. The focus should be on relationships within the organisation, connectivity, intervention and changing the organisational process and practices. Huxam and Vangen (2000) argue that ‘structures, processes and people all contribute to leadership that crosses departmental or organisational boundaries’. With this said, I feel that The Kings Fund should include the potential challenges (power differences, various accountabilities and difficulty building trust to name a few) in their literature so that participants are aware that such challenges do exist. In addition, it may be worthwhile including some tips and offer assistance as to how such challenges can be overcome.

(457 Words)


Part B


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TGF Discussion Block 3 Week 9 Section 1.5 Activity 7 Reviewing the advantages and disadvantages of collective leadership 4 Dec 2018, 14:51 Hi All,

One of the advantages to collective leadership that I have found is the broad range of skills that is available when leadership is combined. When a panel for example comes together as a collective leadership, the spectrum of expertise is much greater on that panel than if it consisted of just one leader. A collective leadership allows more open communication between teams and it opens the way for more individuals to have their say and contribute their ideas.

I have found in my own experience of collective leaderships that when responsibilities are shared in a group, sometimes standards slip and things are not always completed or followed up. I have witnessed this in the past and have heard the phrases “I thought he/she was doing that” or “that wasn’t my responsibility” uttered on more than one occasion from members of a collective leadership.

TGF Discussion Block 3 Week 9 Section 1.5 Activity 7 Reviewing the advantages and disadvantages of collective leadership 4 Dec 2018, 14:57 Hi Ann,

I agree whole heartedly with your disadvantage point. I have seen many an argument arise from within a collective leadership due to lack of consensus. I think that with so many ideas floating around, it can be difficult to get everyone on the same page. So, whilst it is good to have a collective leadership to share ideas, on the flip side, it can also have its negatives as you have stated.

TGF Discussion Block 3 Week 9 Section 1.5 Activity 7 Reviewing the advantages and disadvantages of collective leadership 5 Dec 2018, 09:09 Hi John,

You make a very interesting point there about those higher up the hierarchy overruling those in less senior roles. The phrase ‘he who shouts the loudest’ comes to mind as I too have witnessed this in my own organisation. It is very demoralising for the rest of the collective.

TGF Discussion Block 3 Week 9 Section 1.5 Activity 7 Reviewing the advantages and disadvantages of collective leadership 19 Dec 2018, 15:43 I love this Kris and I think I am going to stick this story on the wall outside my office 
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TGF Discussion Block 3 Week 10 Activity 3 Defining followership 19 Dec 2018, 15:55 In my experience of good leaders, you can be certain that a good follower is not far behind them. When asked to define followership, I instantly thought of the MD of our company. He is very much a successful leader but a lot of his success in leadership is down to his PA nurturing his leadership. She doesn’t get as much credit as she should, but I think that a skilful followership can be a major contributor to the success of the leader.

I do agree with some of the other contributions that have noted that ‘leaders can be followers’ too.

TGF Discussion Block 3 Week 10 Activity 3 Defining followership 19 Dec 2018, 15:56 Hi Ann

I had similar thoughts to you before studying this module and I very much agree with you that leadership and followership is very much a two-way street.

TGF Discussion Block 3 Week 10 Activity 3 Defining followership 19 Dec 2018, 15:59 Interesting and thought provoking take on followership/leadership Vladislav. I hadn’t thought of this before, but you make valid points.
TGF Discussion Block 3 Week 10 Activity 3 Defining followership 19 Dec 2018, 16:03 I have thoroughly enjoyed reading everyone’s points of view on this and it is pleasing to note that not everyone sees followership as a negative. I have to admit that before this module, the word ‘follower’ would have had more negative connotations for me but that thought has long left my head. Ewan picked up on this in his contribution.


















Appendix A – The Kings Fund Homepage




Appendix B





Appendix C

Logo Used On Article from Appendix B









  1. Bennett, N., Wise, C., Woods, P.A. and Harvey, J.A. (2003). Distributed Leadership. Nottingham: National College of School Leadership.
  2. Bolden, R. (2011) ‘Distributed leadership in organisations; a review of theory and research’, International Journal of Management Reviews, vol. 13, no. 3, pp.251 – 69.
  3. Cunliffe, A. L. and Erisken, M. (2011) ‘Relational leadership’, Human Relations, vol64, no. 11, pp. 1425-49.
  4. Collinsdictionary.com. (2019). Collaboration definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary. [online] Available at: https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/collaboration  [Accessed 15 Jan. 2019].
  5. Collinson, M. (2017) ‘Leading questions: what’s new about leadership-as-practice?’. Leadership, Sage Journals, [Online]. Available at http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1742715017726879 [Accessed 16th January 2019].
  6. Gronn, P. (2002) ‘Distributed leadership as a unit of analysis’, The Leadership Quarterly, vol. 13, no. 4, pp. 423-51
  7. Huxam, C. and Vangen, S. (2000) ‘Leadership in the shaping and implementation of collaboration agendas: how things happen in a (not quite) joined up world’, Academy of Management Journal, vol. 43, no. 6, pp. 1159-75.
  8. Jacklin-Jarvis, C (2018) Developing Leadership. Readings Block 3: Collective Leadership. The Open University, Milton Keynes.
  9. Raelin, J. (2003). Creating leaderful organizations: How to bring out leadership in everyone, San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.
  10. Raelin, J. (2011). From leadership-as-practice to leaderful practice. Leadership, vol. 7, no. 2, pp.195-211.
  11. Raelin, J. (2014). Imagine there are no leaders: Reframing leadership as collaborative agency. Leadership, vol. 12, no. 2, pp.131-158.
  12. Raelin, J. (2017). What are you afraid of: Collective leadership and its learning implications? Management Learning, vol. 49, no. 1, pp.59-66.
  13. Spillane, J.P. (2005) ‘Distributed Leadership’, The Educational Forum, vol. 69, no. 2, pp. 143-150.
  14. West, M., Eckert, R., Steward, K., and Passmore, B. (2014). Developing collective leadership for health care. [online] Available at: https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/sites/default/files/field/field_publication_file/developing-collective-leadership-kingsfund-may14.pdf  [Accessed 14 Jan. 2019].
  15. The King’s Fund. (2019). Building collaborative leadership across health and care organisations. [online] Available at: https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/courses/building-collaborative-leadership  [Accessed 14 Jan. 2019].
  16. The King’s Fund. (2019). Leading collaboratively with patients and communities. [online] Available at: https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/courses/leading-collaboratively-patients-communities  [Accessed 14 Jan. 2019].
  17. The King’s Fund. (2019). What we do. [online] Available at: https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/about-us/what-we-do [Accessed 12 Jan. 2019].


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