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Potential challenges facing distributed leadership in health care: evidence from the UK National Health Service

Martin, Graeme; Beech, Nic; MacIntosh, Robert; Bushfield, Stacey


Graeme Martin

Nic Beech

Robert MacIntosh


The discourse of leaderism in health care has been a subject of much academic and practical debate. Recently, distributed leadership (DL) has been adopted as a key strand of policy in the UK National Health Service (NHS). However, there is some confusion over the meaning of DL and uncertainty over its application to clinical and non‐clinical staff. This article examines the potential for DL in the NHS by drawing on qualitative data from three co‐located health‐care organisations that embraced DL as part of their organisational strategy. Recent theorising positions DL as a hybrid model combining focused and dispersed leadership; however, our data raise important challenges for policymakers and senior managers who are implementing such a leadership policy. We show that there are three distinct forms of disconnect and that these pose a significant problem for DL. However, we argue that instead of these disconnects posing a significant problem for the discourse of leaderism, they enable a fantasy of leadership that draws on and supports the discourse

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Apr 3, 2014
Online Publication Date Dec 20, 2014
Publication Date 2015-01
Deposit Date Jul 19, 2019
Publicly Available Date Jul 26, 2019
Journal Sociology of Health & Illness
Print ISSN 1467-9566
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 37
Issue 1
Pages 14-29
Keywords leadership; health care; NHS; distributed leadership; leaderism
Public URL
Related Public URLs
Contract Date Jul 26, 2019


Potential challenges facing distributed leadership in health care (173 Kb)

Copyright Statement
"This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Martin, G., Beech, N., MacIntosh, R., & Bushfield, S. (2015). Potential challenges facing distributed leadership in health care: evidence from the UK National Health Service. Sociology of Health & Illness, 37(1), 14-29, which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions."

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