Distributed Leadership: Understanding Leadership in Communities of Practice

Student Author(s)

Matthew Commet

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Joanne Stewart

Document Type


Event Date



Distributed Leadership (DL) is an emerging model of leadership that focuses on the interactions between leaders in an organization rather than the individual actions of one leader. Contrary to traditional hierarchical leadership models, DL is a collaborative process that engages multiple people with different expertise through trust, respect, and support, to grow the leadership capacity of an organization. We are using a DL framework to study the leadership in an established faculty community of practice: IONiC (Interactive Online Network of Inorganic Chemists). IONiC has been shown to be effective in helping faculty improve their teaching and grow their professional support networks. We believe that studying the leadership in IONiC will provide a needed case study on DL and provide guidance for other communities of practice in higher education. A literature review on distributed leadership was used to develop a survey given to members of the Leadership Council (LC) of IONiC. Preliminary findings from interviews of LC members and analysis of LC interactions on IONiC’s website confirm the effectiveness of engaging leaders with different expertise in collaborative decision making and the importance of trust among leaders in a distributed leadership network.


This research was supported by the Hope College Chemistry Department.

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