Distributed Leadership as Distributed Influence Processes
Leadership is an influence process that changes how others act or think. Therefore, one way of determining leadership is by investigation of its consequences. There are many ways of exercising influence that do not qualify as leadership. These include force, coercion, and manipulation, which are in no way related to leadership. The difference between all these influence processes is based one factor: the source of influence.
These sources of influence— positional authority, personal qualities, and rational persuasion—often separate leadership from any other form of power relationship. Distributed leadership is an influence process, since it embraces the social side of leadership. This is accomplished through an expansion of the specific influence processes that distinguish it from force, coercion, and manipulation. It uses influence processes that make use of the power of ideas, logical thinking, and evidence. This is particularly important in schools, since the professional culture of most schools typically makes it difficult to rely on the power of position alone.
There are some negative aspects of this concept. First, it lacks any educational content, and consequently, provides little or no guidance to the types of leadership practices that are likely to influence teachers, in ways that make a difference to students. Also, this leadership concept has been criticized for not identifying those particular leadership traits that are most likely to improve student outcomes. Instead, it focuses on distribution of leadership. Most of the available research shows that the knowledge needed to identify and define the types of leadership tasks that deliver these credible benefits are found in educational texts, and not in leadership literature.
Yet another limitation of this concept of distributed leadership is that it overlooks some of the ways leadership can be exercised indirectly. Not all interaction is through direct person to person communication. The three sources of leadership influence suggested—acceptance of orders from those in positions of power, response to essential personal characteristics, and acceptance of requests and ideas as reasonable—assume that all leadership influence is exercised through direct face-to-face interaction. This is simply not the case.
However, this conception ignores the most indirect ways in which educational leaders lend their talents to teaching and learning, such as the creation of the conditions that enable independent and unique patterns of thought and actions in others. This leadership practice is known as empowerment, and plays a huge role in the influence process.
A more powerful model is needed for measuring educational worth, if studies of distributed leadership are to give a greater understanding of how it can improve current teaching and learning processes. Recent research into distributed leadership has expanded the unit of analysis from that of leader-follower, to include the interactions among leader, follower, and other aspects of the situation, like the tools that guide and regulate teachers’ work. In summary, the concept of “distributed leadership as distributed influence” helps us distinguish between leader-follower interactions and how they produce change; this is a determining feature of what qualifies as leadership.