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Functionally adequate but causally idle: w(h)ither distributed leadership?

Gabriele Lakomski (Faculty of Education, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia)

Journal of Educational Administration

ISSN: 0957-8234

Article publication date: 21 March 2008




The purpose of this conceptual paper is to argue that leadership, including distributed leadership, is a concept of folk psychology and is more productively viewed as an emergent self‐organising property of complex systems. It aims to argue the case on the basis that claims to (distributed) leadership outrun the theoretical and empirical resources distributed and other leadership theorists can offer to support them.

Design/methodological approach

The paper employs contemporary scientific as well as traditional philosophical criteria in determining the knowledge claims made by distributed leadership theories. Of particular importance are the coherence theory of evidence that employs the super‐empirical virtues, especially coherence to establish the scientific virtue of theory, and the conception of leadership as part and parcel of folk psychology.


When considering the basis of claims to distributed leadership from a neuroscientific and empirical perspective, there is little basis in fact about the existence of (distributed) leadership as an ontological category. Talk of leadership is a conventional, commonsense label for vastly more complex and fine‐grained causal physiological and neuronal activities within certain social contexts. In this sense distributed leadership is a conception available for reduction.


The significance and originality of this paper lies in the fact that it proposes causal investigations of social phenomena such as leadership; demonstrates the importance and necessity of interdisciplinary research; and outlines exciting new research agendas that both question traditional taken‐for‐granted conceptions of social explanations and suggests directions of where solutions may be found in the future that are defensible by the best of current science.



Lakomski, G. (2008), "Functionally adequate but causally idle: w(h)ither distributed leadership?", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 46 No. 2, pp. 159-171.



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Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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