Collective Leadership with Power Symmetry: Lessons from Aboriginal Prehistory

Karl-Erik Sveiby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)


This article draws upon Australian Aboriginal knowledge in traditional law stories and anthropological studies of contemporary African bands. It applies the DAC ontology (Drath et al., 2008) to analyse two collective leadership models developed by forager peoples: one egalitarian ‘up-side-down hierarchy’ and one power-symmetric model. Their existence has several implications for leadership research. Firstly, it encourages shared/distributed leadership scholars to shift their current reactive stage toward building theory of collective leadership on its own terms. This may require exploration of alternatives outside the mainstream both in terms of ontology and cases, and this article attempts to show the value in doing so. Secondly, it highlights the importance of power; the concept needs to be considered more explicitly in collective leadership theory. Finally, it shows that collective leadership is not a recent phenomenon confined to modern organisations – but rather a form for achieving conjoint action in human groups, developed by the first peoples on Earth, and still practised.
Original languageEnglish
Peer-reviewed scientific journalLeadership
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)385-414
Number of pages30
Publication statusPublished - 11.2011
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article - refereed


  • 512 Business and Management
  • Direction; alignment; commitment; power; power-symmetry; distributed leadership; shared leadership; story-telling, followership; collective control; indigenous leadership; respect; authenticity
  • KOTA2011

Areas of Strength and Areas of High Potential (AoS and AoHP)

  • AoS: Responsible organising
  • AoS: Leading for growth and well-being


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