Logics in Tension: Bridging the Individual and Collective Dimensions of Leadership

The second research workshop, “Logics In Tension: Bridging the individual and collective dimensions of leadership”, builds on the first workshop by convening engaged participants and welcoming new ones interested in joining the ‘“collective leadership” conversation.  In addition to the individual-collective tension, the workshop explored others that also surfaced at our 2014 workshop: normative-descriptive approaches, entity-constructionist perspectives, and practitioner-scholar understandings, among others.

The conversations also identified the need for deeper work on challenges around making methodological decisions that are closely associated with theoretical assumptions, such as how to treat context, process, time, levels of analysis and outcomes when doing leadership research that emphasizes its collective dimensions.  

Watch interviews that define and unwrap the "Logics in Tension" 

Survey of Co-Lead Net workshop participants displayed challenges in holding both individual and collective dimensions of leadership in. 


In research, the challenge is definitional - differentiating collective leadership from group dynamics, identifying the collective and individual, determining whether or not “plural” differs from “collective” etc.

Some say, in research there is no tension or challenge. Leadership is part of a complex dynamic system where the individual and collective roles are equally important and can be delineated.

While some suggested that the two dimensions are epistemologically incommensurable, and therefore there is no tension, others suggested that this is precisely the reason for the tension.


In teaching, the challenge is in helping the learner shift from a leader-centric mental model to a collective type of leadership model. The primary reason for this is the stereotypical notion that leadership is about individuals acting heroically to influence others.  In addition, participants found it difficult to apply this perspective in hierarchical institutions. This survey highlighted that while some see this as a challenge, others experience synergy around this tension.

Explore "Logics In Tension"

The idea of collective leadership challenges the traditional notion of individuals as the source of leadership.  In fact, we’ve made great strides in conceptualizing and documenting approaches that understand leadership as the property of groups or even systems.  Yet, on the ground, leadership is still embodied in individuals.  How do we practice, theorize, research and teach leadership in ways that incorporate both the individual and collective dimensions of this phenomenon? That is the question we take up at this year’s workshop.

This fundamental tension may be framed differently depending on the researcher’s own position. Some may ask to what extent (and how) can research on collective leadership move beyond mere consideration of individual leaders? Others may prefer to ask to what extent (and how) can research incorporate individual leaders without reverting to a heroic perspective on leadership?  Those who focus on individual leaders may ask how they can bring a collective lens to their explorations?  The 2015 Collective Leadership Research Workshop  will afford opportunities to dig deeper–and in community–into the theoretical, methodological and substantive concerns associated with this tension, as it is expressed in the challenges of:

1) doing empirical research on collective leadership and its relationship to individual leadership; and

2) translating leadership theory and knowledge into insights for effective teaching.

Fruitful Intersections or Parallel Play?

The 2014 research workshop titled “Fruitful Intersections or Parallel Play?” brought together a small but diverse group of global scholars interested in incorporating the collective dimensions of leadership in their own empirical research.

The goal was to engage in exploring fruitful intersections among their research efforts and to begin to break down silos and interrupt practices of parallel play in the leadership field.   The work together ratified a commitment to continue tackling the challenges and opportunities to develop a cumulative research agenda of collective leadership at the field level, capitalizing on our diverse perspectives to advance leadership theory and practice.  

This group articulated a desire to communicate, interact and support each other in their research practice going forward. This became the seeds of an emergent collective leadership network led to the second Collective Leadership Research Workshop and the formation of what is today the Co-Lead Net.

Frameworks for collective leadership

Papers on Collective Leadership