Distributed Leadership as a Framework
If you have ever had any exposure to the Comprehensive Assessment of Leadership for Learning (CALL) System, you probably have heard about or discussed the concept of Distributed Leadership. After all, it is the foundation on which CALL was developed. When researchers from the University of Wisconsin set out to develop a unique leadership assessment and feedback system, they did so guided by the understanding that leadership is not confined to the actions of a singular person. Rather, it is the result of various actors in an organization taking on responsibilities and interacting with one another.
Distributed Leadership in Action
This concept applies to education organizations such as schools and districts. If you wanted to assess leadership in a school, for example, and you only focused on the individual principal, you would be missing a great deal of information about leadership practice.
There are myriad leadership practices in a school, and while the principal is ultimately responsible for ensuring these practices are happening, it is not likely that the principal is doing each and every one of these tasks. In fact, the principal often acts like an orchestra conductor who is ensuring everything in the school is happening effectively, efficiently, and…harmoniously (to extend the metaphor). Therefore, if we wanted to assess and support leadership in a school, we should focus on the work that various people, both formal and informal leaders, do in a school. By doing so, we are supporting the school improvement effort since the resulting data is action-oriented. Furthermore, by separating the work from the individual, we are working to remove bias that a respondent may have toward a principal.
Distributed vs. Distributing
At first introduction, the concept of Distributed Leadership seems logical and reasonable: distributing leadership in an organization has many benefits. That may be the case. But before we even begin advocating for distributing leadership (or sharing, delegating, or democratizing leadership—concepts that are often conflated with distributed leadership), we should recognize that leadership is usually and inherently distributed. With that understanding, we can view organizations through a Distributed Leadership lens to drill down to the specific key tasks that determine the effectiveness of leadership and the well-being of an organization. Once we have determined what should be the focus of our strategic (school improvement) planning, we can then begin to determine who in our organization or beyond is in a good position to take on the leadership responsibility of addressing these target areas.