Distributed Leadership in DMOs: A Review of the Literature and Directions for Future Research

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Abstract

Amidst key emergent challenges for DMOs and destinations triggered by shifts in the public funding and governance landscape for tourism on a global scale, Distributed Leadership (DL) has emerged as a promising concept to provide a collaborative framework for channelling resources and leadership. Current evidence from academic literature discussing the importance of embedding shared forms of leadership is scarce and there is a limited number of studies that discuss the practices of DL within the context of DMOs.

The overarching purpose of this conceptual paper is to provide a critical overview of key DL contributions in the mainstream and DMO academic literature while also examining the relevance of DL to DMOs with the purpose to inform future empirical investigations into the role of DL in a DMO context and DMO practice. The paper provides key avenues for further research that have the potential to advance distributed leadership practice in DMOs disrupted by shifts in the funding and governance landscape for tourism on a global scale.

INTRODUCTION

Destination Management Organisations (DMOs) operate at times characterised by a significant degree of uncertainty brought by shifts in public funding and governance landscape in large-to-small scale tourism destinations on a global level (Laesser and Beritelli, 2013). Two key characteristics of this funding and governance landscape have been the reduction of governmental funding for DMOs (see Hristov and Ramkissoon, 2016) and state-driven initiatives aimed at encouraging public-to-private leadership transition (Reinhold et al, 2015; Hristov and Zehrer, 2017). Collectively, these two characteristics in the landscape for DMOs and destinations have created the necessity for a distribution of leadership roles among DMO members and the pooling of individual DMO member resources (Reinhold et al., 2015; Valente et al., 2015).

Shifts in DMO governance and funding provide opportunities for the introduction of new models with a focus beyond management and marketing to enable DMOs to flourish within this new landscape (Hristov and Zehrer, 2015). Recent evidence suggests that shared forms of leadership, such as Distributed Leadership (DL) provide opportunities for these organisations to navigate through uncertainty whilst delivering value and impact to its members and destinations (Hristov and Ramkissoon, 2016; Kozak et al, 2014; Pechlaner et al., 2014; Valente et al., 2015).

The reduction of state support and leadership for destinations and DMOs are not geographically-bound, but instead, have emerged as a global trend (Hristov and Naumov, 2015; Scott and Marzano, 2015). As noted by Kennell (2013), a wide debate takes place across a number of destinations about the value of public spending across strategic sectors of the economy and society, such as culture, tourism and urban regeneration. The implications of such major shifts have been evident in countries with traditionally strong tourism market presence, such as Greece (Kapiki, 2012; Stylidis & Terzidou, 2014), Spain (Eugenio-Martin & Campos-Soria, 2014), Slovenia (Mihalic, 2013), Iceland (Johannesson & Huijbens, 2010) and alike. Governments around the world now seek to empower DMOs and other key strategic destination organisations to assume leadership functions and identify alternative, yet sustainable means of funding their operations through the introduction of new models with a focus beyond management and marketing (Reinhold et al., 2015).

Current conceptual contributions discussing the relevance and application of DL to DMOs, however, remain limited (Kozak et al., 2014; Reinhold et al., 2015). Equally, evidence of critical discussions providing an overview of the gaps in the DL literature in a DMO context and recommendations for key future research strands into leadership practice in DMOs is scarce (Hristov and Zehrer, 2015). The overarching purpose of this conceptual paper is to provide a critical overview of key DL contributions in the mainstream and DMO literature and debate the relevance of DL to DMOs to inform future empirical investigations into the role of DL in a DMO context and practice. This paper aims to: (1) discuss and debate the importance of embedding shared forms of leadership as a response to organisational change as in the case of DMOs; (2) deconstruct the concept of DL and debate its relevance to DMOs and destinations; (3) identify key broad and specific gaps in the mainstream leadership and DMO-specific literature in relation to DL; and (4) position key avenues for future research that have the potential to advance distributed leadership practice in DMOs.

The current study draws on experience in situ involving the perspective of DMOs in England, UK and their shifting operational environment (see Hristov and Petrova, 2015; Hristov and Ramkissoon, 2016). Hairon and Goh (2015) argued that processes related to the enactment of leadership practice can be attributed to recent governmental reforms that invite the introduction of a more ‘joined up’ and ‘networked’ approach to destination governance. Reshaped DMOs in England that have undergone a public-to-private transition in their existing leadership model (Hristov & Naumov, 2015) provide evidence of this transition.

The context for DMOs in England, UK is characterised with a shifting funding and governance landscape (see Coles et al., 2014; Hristov & Zehrer, 2017) whereby responsibility for destination leadership and financing related projects and operations has been transitioned to DMOs and their networks of member organisations. This transition calls for the distribution of leadership and funding to support the very purpose of DMOs in destinations. Funding and governance challenges faced by DMOs are not exclusive to this specific context (Reinhold et al., 2015; Scott & Marzano, 2015). This makes this investigation relevant to other DMOs and destinations operating under similar context to the one in England, UK.

This organisational change in the role and functions and disruptions to the operational environment of DMOs is also evident in other countries, such as Italy and Switzerland (see Reinhold, Laesser and Beritelli, 2015; Scott and Marzano, 2015). Key developments in the broad organisational and leadership literature relevant to this study, namely the role of leadership in organisational change, are explored, before linking these developments with a conceptual discussion into a number of collaborative forms of leadership as related to organisational change. The emergent role of distributed forms of leadership in contemporary DMOs and its relevance to destinations are debated. The current progress of the mainstream DL literature in DMOs and destinations are then discussed, with recommendations to bridge the gaps between theory and practice.

THE ROLE OF LEADERSHIP IN ORGANISATIONAL CHANGE: LEADING CHANGE IN DMOS

As discussed at the outset of this paper, shifts in the funding and governance landscape for DMOs prompt organisational change. The role of leadership in leading change at an organisational level has been recognised as important both in the tourism literature (Hristov and Ramkissoon, 2016; Kozak et al, 2014; Pechlaner et al., 2014) and the mainstream organisational leadership literature (Graetz 2000; Hallinger and Kantamara 2000; Mullins 2013). Harris et al. (2007) discuss the importance of conducting further enquiry into the interplay between DL and organisational change:

“The evidence is able to confirm that there is an important relationship between distributed leadership and organisational change which makes it worth further investigation and scrutiny.”

Harris et al. (2007, p.345)

The importance and shared forms of leadership, and their fundamental role in responding to organisational change, e.g. the process of reshaping DMOs across England has been discussed in literature (Hristov & Zehrer, 2017; Kozak et al., 2014; Reinhold et al., 2015). The new landscape for DMOs and its funding dimension in particular, has been characterised with a considerable degree of complexity and uncertainty (Coles et al. 2014). This has been recognised by the 2nd Biennial Forum Advances in Destination Management in St Gallen, Switzerland:

“public budgets are increasingly squeezed and austerity measures dominate the agendas of government bodies at different levels … as is already the case in countries, such as Italy and the United Kingdom.”

(Reinhold et al. 2015, p.3)

A transition from traditionally influential organisational literature domains in the field of DMOs and destinations, namely management and governance towards leadership and its distributed dimension, has emerged as an opportunity to navigate through organisational change (Hristov and Zehrer, 2015). This emergent paradigm demands significant attention to bridge the gaps between theory and practice (Benson and Blackman, 2011; Kozak et al., 2014; Morrison, 2013; Pechlaner et al., 2014).

Recent developments that have led to rethinking of traditional organisational paradigms are also evident in the organisations undergoing change. This paper draws on the extant mainstream literature on leadership to explore the latest theoretical developments and practitioner trends to establish a link between recent advances in the mainstream organisational leadership literature and DMOs and destinations.

Modern organisations are very complex entities (Owen and Dietz, 2012) and as such, are well-placed to facilitate the development of leadership and shared forms of leadership in particular (Pearce, 2004). The importance of developing leadership capabilities in an age of uncertainty is being acknowledged (Chambers et al., 2010). Change is about leadership (Gill, 2002), which requires a strong vision of the organisation’s future. Vision in leadership is therefore a driving force (Senge, 1990), which may be of key importance in times of organisational change and shifting organisational priorities.

Traditional theories of leadership tend to discuss characteristics, values and attitudes held by individuals, i.e. leaders (Bass, 1985; Bass and Steidlmeier, 1999) in addition to pointing to a number of leadership functions of inspirational, heroic and visionary individuals (Nanus, 1992). This set of theories follows more orthodox leadership paradigms. Scholars have recognised the importance of context, i.e. the setting where leadership occurs (Martin et al., 2009). Leadership can emerge from a context and be demonstrated by a collective of members of an organisation (Evaggelia and Vitta, 2012).

This paper provides a critical investigation of key DL contributions within the mainstream business and DMO academic literature and seeks to discuss the need of more empirical research to study the role of DL in the context of DMOs providing evidence of contextually-embedded leadership (Chreim, 2015) with a focus on the transition from autocratic approaches in management (e.g. dominating local government) and traditionally ‘heroic’ leadership towards shared forms of leadership (Cope et al., 2011). The premise of the study is that traditional (e.g. individualistic, heroic) leadership models are ill-equipped to explain and theorise on the largely complex and uncertain context that contemporary organisations inhabit (Lichtenstein et al., 2006; Oborn et al., 2013). The study also argues that more studies are needed and suggests key avenues for further research exploring the potential to integrate DL to DMOs at a time of limited state funding and shifting landscapes of destination management at a global scale.

SHARED FORMS OF LEADERSHIP IN RESPONSE TO ORGANISATIONAL CHANGE

The rationale for sharing leadership

Shared forms of leadership, such as DL are gaining wider acceptance in contemporary organisations. As Cullen-Lester and Yammarino (2016, p.173) note, “a paradigm shift has occurred within the field – many scholars now view leadership as a property of the collective, not the individual”. Contemporary organisations, regardless of their vision, mission and objectives, are constantly challenged to rethink their modus operandi in order to achieve sustainable structures, deliver value to their members, flourish and compete successfully (Cullen and Yammarino 2014; Mullins 2013).

Leadership and its shared or distributed dimension have been endorsed by scholars and practitioners due to their potential to bring about improvements to leadership practice (Hopkins 2001). Kotter (2007) contends that successful organisational transformations require a ‘leadership coalition’ from within the organisation. A leadership coalition is often powerful, it captures diverse titles, expertise, reputations and information enabling members of the organisation to set and achieve common goals (Kotter, 2007). Organisational decision-making in collective settings is therefore governed by the interaction of individuals (Harris, 2008). Emphasis on the interaction of individuals is a key strength of shared forms of leadership. Hristov and Zehrer (2017) introduced the DMO Leadership Cycle as an emergent conceptual framework to explain how reshaped DMOs are called upon to move beyond traditional organisational paradigms and explore opportunities presented by DL.

The above transition is seen as a paradigm shift from an orthodox and ‘heroic’ leadership towards collective forms of leadership, recognising that “teams, organisations, coalitions, communities, networks, systems, and other collectives carry out leadership functions through a collective social process” (Cullen and Yammarino, 2014, p.1).  As a result, the leadership discourse in academia and practice has resulted in the provision of a number of definitions and conceptualisations of leadership and its collective dimensions (see Table 1).

Key Leadership theories
Theory Source Defining features
Collectivistic leadership Friedrich et al. (2016)
  • Leadership as a dynamic process in which a leader may selectively utilise the skills of followers
  • Leaders distribute elements of the leadership role among these followers as the situation demands.
Distributed leadership Gibb (1954)
  • Leadership is founded on and thus heavily shaped by interactions within the organisation
  • Takes into account organizational contexts
Collective leadership Friedrich et al. (2009)
  • Leadership is a function of collectively utilizing knowledge and skills of individuals in a network possess
  • Information and communication are key to the emergence of leadership
Emergent leadership Kickul and Neuman (2000)
  • Leadership is aimed at establishing conditions necessary to the accomplishment of goals and objectives
  • Personality traits and abilities define emergent leaders
Team leadership Day et al. (2014)
  • Leadership focused on the improvement of team performance
  • Organisational context defines the nature of team leadership
Flock leadership Will (2016)
  • Leadership model characterised with emergent collective behaviour
  • Organisational challenges unlock the practice of flock leadership through interactions
Contingent leadership Yun et al. (2005)
  • Leadership that applies to some situations but not to others.
  • Leadership model shaped by specific situational elements
Group leadership van Ginkel and van Knippenberg (2012)
  • Leadership that shapes a group’s understanding of their tasks (jobs)
  • Group leaders provide directions on how to approach a group task and focus on performance
Network leadership Balkundi and Kilduf (2005)
  • Leadership is socially embedded in a network of individuals
  • Leadership influence relies on social networks
Shared leadership Fitzsimons et al. 2011
  • Addresses leadership development in team-based settings
  • Focus on the collective dimension of decision-making, but omitting the role of interaction and context

Table 1. Key Leadership Theories (Source: Authors)

Amidst the multiple definitions and conceptualisations of leadership and its shared or distributed dimensions, the dominant discourse has focused on two concepts, namely Shared Leadership (SL) and Distributed Leadership (DL) (see for example, Bolden 2011; Fitzsimons et al., 2011), which are both discussed later in this paper. DL is the second of the three organisational literature domains from the mainstream organisational literature, which underpins and informs the cross-disciplinary approach applied in this study, drawing a line between the concepts of SL and DL in DMOs.

Shared leadership versus distributed leadership in the context of DMOs

There has been considerable confusion in academia as to whether Shared Leadership (SL) and DL are interchangeable terms (Bolden et al., 2011; Fitzsimons et al., 2011). Hairon and Hoh (2014) emphasise the lack of consensus on a clear definition of DL, which can potentially be translated across diverse disciplines. Friedrich et al. (2016, p.313) also note this trend in the leadership domain, where “there is frequent overlap in definitions and use of the same words interchangeably (e.g. shared and distributed leadership)”. Fitzsimons et al. (2011) attempt to address this overlap of definitions by providing a four-fold discussion on the key characteristics of these largely overlapping, yet contrasting concepts within the wider leadership paradigm.

DL, according to Fitzsimons et al. (2011), is far more inclusive as it goes beyond a focus on team-based leadership (as it is the case with SL) to capture whole organisations as units of analysis and importantly, take into account their organisational environs (Fitzsimons et al., 2011). In other words, in DL the key focus is on leadership at an organisational level, whereas SL addresses leadership development in team-based settings (Ruark and Mumford, 2009). As such, DL is in line with the phenomenon studied in this research, namely a formal organisational structure (i.e. DMO) and its organisational environment (i.e. the wider policy network within a new funding landscape for DMOs and destinations in England).

Secondly, unlike SL relying on individuals solely leading themselves, DL practice is founded on and thus heavily shaped by interactions within the organisation and its operational environment (Fitzsimons et al., 2011). Interactions, in the case of DMOs are therefore best studied through the lens of DL as this approach may also capture the role of developmental resource exchange and communication, which is a fundamental consideration of the largely resource-constrained DMOs (Hristov and Zehrer, 2015). As such, DL goes beyond SL, where the primary focus of the latter is on the collective dimension of decision-making and thus largely omitting the role of interaction (Fitzsimons et al., 2011), which is key to the emergent network-shaped organisations (Buchanan et al., 2007).

Thirdly, cognition processes and sense-making in the case of DL are not simply limited to human beings, who act as leaders in the organisation (Fitzsimons et al., 2011), but stretch over to include aspects of the context, e.g. the environment, in which organisations operate in. DL is then well positioned to facilitate the study of leadership practice that is enacted within an organisation, which is challenged to rethink its modus operandi (Hristov and Zehrer, 2015) as a consequence of external developments in the operational environment, i.e. the introduction of a new funding landscape for DMOs and destinations in England (Coles et al., 2014).

Finally, the scope of DL goes beyond the importance of “aggregating attributed influence”, that being among the key characteristics of SL (Fitzsimons et al., 2011, p.319), to develop a capacity to act by means of joined-up orchestration. The latter implies a far more holistic approach to leadership in organisational settings, recognition of collective strength of diverse individuals within organisations, whilst also acknowledging the organisational environments often surrounded by complexity and uncertainty (Hristov and Zehrer, 2015). In this sense, DL aims to engage and empower others (Martin et al. 2015).

DISTRIBUTED LEADERSHIP EXPLORED AND ITS RELEVANCE TO DMOs AND DESTINATIONS

Within the mainstream leadership literature, the concept of ‘Distributed Leadership’ was first introduced by Gibb (1954) in his investigation of dynamics in influence processes taking place in both formal and informal groups and organisations. Sufficient progress on DL was not, however, made after Gibb (1954) up until its rediscovery by Brown and Hosking (1986). DL, as contended by Harris (2008), cannot be prescribed in advance, as in the case of ‘heroic’ leadership, discussed at the outset of this paper. Instead, DL emerges within organisations as a consequence of major shifts and subsequent complexities in order to shape a response to these complexities. DL is enacted by a collective of individuals within an organisation (Fitzsimons et al., 2011) and occurs in a variety of group and organisation settings (Thorpe et al., 2011). A DL perspective then “recognises the inclusive and collaborative nature of the leadership process” (Oborn et al. 2013, p.254). In line with this, Valente et al. (2015) contend that effective leadership in DMOs should be empowering, giving equal voice to the various actors having an interest in destination decision-making and DL may be seen as an opportunity to fulfil this purpose, particularly across reshaped DMOs.

Within the context of the wider organisational leadership literature, processes related to the enactment and practice of DL, as argued by Hairon and Goh (2014), can be attributed to recent reforms in the public sector calling upon the need to adopt a more ‘joined up’ and ‘networked’ approach to governance. This is the case with reshaped DMOs in England, which have undergone a public-to-private transition in their leadership model (Hristov and Naumov, 2015). As formerly public-led bodies, DMOs in England were responsible for providing the majority of developmental resources for destinations (Coles et al., 2014). Local government organisations and other public sector bodies, such as local authorities and councils also assumed DMO management and leadership functions. However, recent developments in the organisational environment, namely changes in politics and policy landscape for DMOs (Cameron, 2010; Hristov and Naumov, 2015) coupled with the introduction of new DMO models involving a public-to-private shift in funding for destinations and destination organisations (Coles et al., 2014; Penrose, 2011), suggest that resources are now located in a number of DMO member organisations. These are likely to include businesses from a number of sectors of the economy, along with governmental agencies and not-for-profit organisations (Hristov and Zehrer, 2015). This collective and distributed provision of resources in meeting strategic organisational and destination objectives implies greater appreciation of the interdependence of individual DMO members and calls for, and ultimately supports the consideration of alternative paradigms, such as DL and beyond traditional public-sector leadership. DL is founded on interactions, rather than actions (Harris, 2005; Harris and Spillane, 2008), and as such, resources are central to the enactment of DL practice at an organisational level (Chreim, 2015; Tian et al., 2015). Within this context DL emerges in reshaped DMOs (see for example Hristov and Zehrer, 2015; Hristov and Ramkissoon, 2017) as a potential response to shifts in the landscape for DMOs and destinations. Indeed, Currie and Lockett (2011) contend that organisational context influences the enactment of DL. Bennett et al. (2003, p.7) see DL as “an emergent property of a group or a network of interacting individuals.” Equally, Spillane (2006) argue that DL calls for recognition of the interdependency of organisations, when shaping leadership practice as in the case of today’s reshaped and largely resource-constrained DMOs. Fitzsimons et al. (2011) attempt to provide a comprehensive definition of DL through establishing a link with SL. A definition of DL that underpins this study’s direction, however, is the one provided by Harris (2008) from the domain of Higher Education (HE), who argues that this form of leadership is:

“assumed to enhance opportunities for the organisation to benefit from the capacities of more of its members, to permit members to capitalise on the range of their individual strengths, and to develop among organisational members a fuller appreciation of interdependence and how one’s behaviour affects the organisation as a whole…”

(Harris 2008, p.177)

This definition also underpins the initial conceptual framework derived from the interplay between theory and empirical data, namely the DMO Leadership Cycle (Hristov and Zehrer, 2015). Acknowledging the strengths of others, often non-leaders by definition (Oborn et al., 2013), is seen as a key consideration of contemporary leadership theory. DL therefore supports organisations in their efforts to “benefit from diversity of thought in decision-making” (Evaggelia and Vitta 2012, p.3). Equally, DL recognises the fact that diverse resources and the “varieties of expertise are distributed across the many, not the few” (Bennet et al. 2003, p.7), as again is the case of reshaped business-led DMOs in England (Hristov and Zehrer, 2015).

Further, impactful DL has to be coordinated, often in a planned way (Leithwood et al., 2006). When this statement is translated into destination and DMO research, DMPs are seen as enablers of coordinated, effective and efficient DL by providing a vision for practising DL (see Hristov and Zehrer, 2015). The DMO Leadership Cycle provides arguments that formulating collective goals, facilitating a voice in strategic decision-making, drafting joint action plans and planning for the future, captures a number of core activities and actions and as such, these activities provide a visionary function in organisations enacting DL – all being a prerequisite for effective DL practice (Hristov and Zehrer, 2015).

Defining the ingredients of DL has been extensively discussed in the literature (Currie et al., 2011), nevertheless, “there remains a poor understanding of how and why collaborative styles are enacted” (Oborn et al., 2013, p.255). Equally, there is narrow evidence on the practice of DL in organisations (Bennett et al., 2003; Cullen and Yammarino, 2014; Tian et al., 2015). This paper aims to fill this gap by providing important insights to serve as a basis for providing deeper contextual insights as part of future research on the role of DL in DMOs.

KEY GAPS IN THE MAINSTREAM DL LITERATURE

An overview of key broad gaps in the DL literature

DL is a relatively unexplored concept in both the leadership literature and in leadership practice, despite its considerable scope to contribute to academia and business organisations (Thorpe et al., 2011). The empirical research base on DL is still largely undeveloped and evidence grounded in practice is thin (Hairon and Goh 2014; Spillane et al. 2008). Leithwood et al. (2006) call for gaining a more nuanced understanding of DL in its attempt to address a number of challenges organisations face, where processes and practices related to reshaping DMOs in England is just one example. Indeed, much has been written on theorising DL, whilst evidence in situ through operationalising DL is still scant (Hairon and Goh, 2014).

Hairon and Goh (2014) develop a scale and sub-scales for measuring DL practice quantitatively in the domain of education. Currie and Lockett (2011) examine the interaction of DL within an institutional context, namely healthcare, i.e. the National Health Service, and although they embark on the network concept, their methodology and subsequent discussion are largely qualitative. Gockel and Werth (2015) propose an approach for measuring leadership and its distributed dimension by measuring influence within a leadership network. Edwards (2011) investigates the enactment of DL in a community context. However, few studies have taken into consideration the cross-sectoral enactment and practice of DL within a diverse network representing organisations from the public, private and not-for-profit sectors (Cullen-Lester and Yammarino 2016). Valente et al. (2015) emphasise the importance of further research in the domain.

Edwards (2011) calls for embracing the role of the private sector in enacting DL, such contributions are rare, and arguably not inclusive of the three main sectors. There is a need to understand how leadership is distributed across different forms of organisations (Edwards, 2011). Edwards suggests that academia should go beyond education as a dominant context of DL investigations and embrace other organisational contexts. This points to the need for understanding new forms of organisations, which fuse the public, private and not-for-profit sectors.

An overview of key specific gaps in the DL literature

Equally, the mainstream organisational leadership literature calls upon fusing the concepts of DL and SNA, i.e. network approaches to investigating the enactment of DL (see Cullen and Yammarino, 2014; Cullen-Lester and Yammarino, 2016), and as such, it evidences the lack of research into bringing to the forefront both emergent paradigms. Drawing on these very recent gaps in the current state of the DL and SNA literature, this study unfolds such a case and adopts a cross-disciplinary approach to investigating the enactment and practice of DL.

A recent call by Cullen and Yammarino (2014), aimed at both academia and practice to introduce novel ideas in the discipline of leadership and its collective or distributed dimension, propose eight topical areas for further enquiry, three of which are particularly relevant to the case in focus: (1) Effectiveness within leadership network structures and collective leadership; (2) Changes in leadership network structures and collective leadership over time; (3) Developing more robust leadership network structures by formal leaders; (4) Advances in measurement of collective, shared, distributed, system, and network leadership; (5) Organisational or situational factors influencing leadership and its collective or distributed dimension; (6) The sharing of leadership roles by members of a collective, network, or system; (7) Collective decision making, collective intelligence, and collective and network leadership connections; and (8) The development, illustration, and application of new research methodologies for studying collective, network, and system leadership.

The above call by Cullen and Yammarino (2014), who are two of the pioneers in the field of leadership, forms a special issue in The Leadership Quarterly exploring collective and network approaches to leadership and its distributed dimension. Carter and Dechurch (2012, p.412) also emphasise the importance of future investigations into fusing the concepts of DL and networks, where they believe that “taking a network perspective provides a tool that can facilitate future empirical research on ‘we’ leadership.”

Adopted methodologies are often narrow and thus do not always allow for processes and practices related to DL enactment to be uncovered in their entirety and within a particular organisational context (Cullen and Yammarino, 2014; Cullen-Lester and Yammarino, 2016). Hence the methodological approach adopted in this study is in line with Cullen and Yammarino’s (2014) call for introducing advances in the measurement of DL (see topical area four) to advance current knowledge in measuring processes and practices related to the enactment of DL in the context of DMOs. Nevertheless, within the context of fusing the concepts of DL and SNA, this study aims to respond to more than one of Cullen and Yammarino (2014) eight topical areas. This discussion suggests that gaps in both theorising and operationalising DL are arguably wide-reaching (see Cullen and Yammarino 2014) and as such, they set the scene for a number of investigations, addressed by this study.

KEY GAPS IN THE DMO LITERATURE IN RELATION TO THE DOMAIN OF LEADERSHIP AND DL

Evidence is scarce when investigating destination leadership functions in DMO organisations (Hristov and Zehrer, 2015; Reinhold et al., 2015). A number of notable contributions have been explored, Figure 1 draws on Beritelli and Bieger’s (2014) approach to visualising gaps in the literature of destinations. As is evident, both management and governance have been well researched on spatial (destination) and more strategic organisational (DMO) levels. However, the concept of leadership has so far been largely discussed on a destination level. This leaves a gap in the destination leadership literature and indicates the need for investigating the role of leadership on a more strategic organisational or DMO level, which the present study aims to address and add to existing knowledge.

Figure 1. Destination versus DMO Leadership: The gaps in the academic literature (Source: Hristov and Zehrer, 2015)

Figure 1 suggests that whilst the extant literature on DMOs and destinations has incorporated network theory and SNA in greater detail (see Scott et al., 2008a; Baggio et al., 2010), this has not been the case with DL in the domain of DMOs and destinations (Pechlaner et al., 2014). As noted earlier, the leadership paradigm and its distributed dimension have been captured in a two-part special issue of Tourism Review (see Kozak et al., 2014; Pechlaner et al., 2014), with contributions also discussed in this paper. Valente et al. (2015) examine leadership practice in two Brazilian Regional Tourism Organisations (RTOs) by approaching RTO executives and other RTO and destination stakeholders. Beritelli and Bieger (2014) develop a leadership research framework with the help of influential actors from four destinations in Switzerland, Austria, and Italy. Blichfeldt et al. (2014) investigate the relationship between leadership and power in DMOs and other destination actors by employing a non-conventional vignettes approach. Zmyślony (2014) proposes a method of identifying and evaluating leadership potential of stakeholders in emerging destinations through employing an in-depth analysis of stakeholders representing the public, private and non-profit sectors. Pröbstl-Haider et al. (2014) investigate leadership in rural destinations undertaking an analysis of case studies and case study-based literature.

Further, an earlier contribution by Benson and Blackman (2011) investigate the practice of DL in a destination organisation, where the authors adopt a longitudinal qualitative case study including participant observation, semi-structured interviews and documentary analysis in order to explore different forms of DL in tourism firms in destinations. Benson and Blackman (2011, p.1144) argue that multiple approaches to data collection are able to draw “a more holistic picture of the case study”. However, the omission of SNA in such investigations may lead to the provision of a limited perspective into the enactment and practice of DL.

Within this context, there are no studies to date, which have investigated how DL is enacted and practised by a collective group of leaders in DMOs and their networks of member organisations by adopting an SNA approach. Hence, current evidence of conceptualising and enquiring into DMOs through the perspective of both DL and SNA with the aim to yield network data-driven DL insights is scarce (see Hristov and Scott, 2016; Hristov and Zehrer, 2015). The wider organisational leadership literature also calls for more empirical evidence into fusing both organisational literature domains in surfacing DL (Cullen and Yammarino, 2014; Cullen-Lester and Yammarino, 2016) as discussed.

Indeed, little research has been undertaken on the strategic organisational level – by exploring the DMO network of bodies involved in destination management representing the three key interested groups: businesses, local government and community organisations (Del Chiappa and Presenza, 2013; Hristov and Ramkissoon, 2017). When the concept of leadership is attached to such networks, one is then able to spot a new direction of enquiry that deserves further attention, i.e. DMO networks serving as platforms for nurturing joined-up thinking and collective action.

Leadership is seen as a concept having both an individual and collective dimension. Not surprisingly then, Kozak et al. (2014) call for a discussion on a recent debate in leadership networks as to whether destination leadership is primarily a role of the individual, or it takes the form of DL. Drawing on the latter, DMOs are seen as a function of such DL practice in destinations and are, therefore, subject of investigation in the present study.

CONCLUSION AND AVENUES FOR FUTURE RESEARCH

This conceptual paper has evaluated key concepts in the broad organisational and leadership academic literature, followed by a discussion into different collaborative forms of leadership in addressing organisational change. It serves as an introduction to an in-depth discussion aimed at prominent contributions in the domain of leadership and DL. The paper explores the emergent role of distributed forms of leadership in contemporary DMOs and debates their relevance to DMOs, before delving into a critical discussion of the progress of the DMO and destination literature in the context of leadership and DL, pointing out prominent gaps in scholarship. The paper addresses the relevance of networks and the network concept to both the domain of leadership and DL and the overarching aim and objectives of this study, namely to: a) discuss and debate the importance of embedding shared forms of leadership as a response to organisational change; b) deconstruct the concept of DL and debate its relevance to DMOs and destinations; c) identify key broad and specific gaps in the mainstream leadership and DMO-specific academic literature in relation to DL; and d) position key avenues for future research that have the potential to advance distributed leadership practice in DMOs.

The above discussion provides evidence that unlike traditional forms of leadership centred around the ‘leader-follower’ relationship (Harris, 2008) and the largely team-bound SL concept (Fitzsimons et al., 2011), DL implies that both the social context and inter-relationships are fundamental ingredients to leadership activity (Spillane et al., 2001). DL practice is shaped by interactions (Fitzsimons et al., 2011) and as such, it is not surprising that DL is underpinned by considerable complexity (Day et al., 2014). Hence, ‘heroic’ leadership that is primarily the role of the individual may not be an efficient approach to leadership carried out on a DMO level since destination resources, expertise and knowledge in DMOs reside in often diverse, multiple member organisations.

DL has the potential to establish itself as a prominent leadership paradigm in light of today’s pressures in the operational environment, the need to develop proactive approaches to respond to these pressures and indeed recognise the importance of alternative organisational forms, such as networks (Buchanan et al., 2007). Leadership in the context of DMOs, as Valente et al. (2015) argue, is socially constructed, and such a networked approach may potentially yield rich insights into processes and practices related to the enactment of DL in a DMO context. Cope et al. (2011) also suggest that DL should embrace a model of leadership that is network-centric. Balkundi and Kilduff (2005) contend that there is considerable scope for research delving into the synergy between the concept of DL and social network approaches to data collection and analysis. However, the extant literature on DL suggests that the role and contribution of individuals or organisations as sources of influence within a distributed context have not been adequately researched (Cullen et al. 2012; Cullen and Yammarino 2014).

Key themes deserving further attention in research and practice include proposed investigations into the relevance of DL to DMOs, the provision of longitudinal insights on how DL is enacted and practised on a DMO level, undertaking a cross-case comparison of DMOs adopting DL, carrying out a fuller and more detailed post-SNA study with DMO member organisations, investigations into the role of network champions in promoting DL on a DMO level, and research into further advances in visualising the enactment and practice of DL in DMOs.

DL’s relevance to contemporary DMOs: Is DL a panacea for reshaped DMOs?

Although DL provides an alternative perspective to the way DMOs operate across their geographies, DL should not necessarily be perceived as a panacea to resource-constrained DMOs undergoing change. DL provides an alternative response to orthodox leadership theorising, but may not necessarily serve as a solution for organisations undergoing change (Harris et al., 2007). Inevitably, DL involves a number of considerations, which should be taken on board when DL is enacted and practised. There is a need for a much deeper investigation into how leadership champions collectively act as an enabler and facilitate the enactment and practice of DL in organisations and networks undergoing change influenced by their operational contexts and most importantly, assess DL’s long-term relevance and impact on reshaped DMOs to strengthen the credibility and relevance of the theory to real-world organisations.

Investigation into the outcomes of the enactment and practice of DL in networks would benefit future researchers in the field, particularly those aiming to investigate whether DL leads to an improvement of the work of reshaped DMOs. This important area of enquiry was beyond the scope of this study. Hence, further studies into the enactment and practice of DL in DMOs and beyond, which also has both in-depth and longitudinal dimensions, are needed.

Longitudinal insights on how DL is enacted, practised and influenced in DMOs

In the general leadership literature, the fluid and interchangeable nature of DL is also pointed out by Harris (2008) as one of the dominant principles of DL. The fluid and interchangeable nature of DL may then be investigated through the adoption of a fuller longitudinal approach to the complete network in focus involving all DMO member organisations (in the case of DMOs with clear boundaries). The destination and DMO literature also provides contributions and positioned calls in favour of adopting longitudinal methodologies in studying strategic destination decision-making in DMOs and destinations (see Beritelli, 2011; Pavlovich, 2003, 2014). However, these calls have not, explicitly made reference to studying DL in a DMO and destination context. These insights can contribute to shaping a response which tracks the progress and impact of the enactment and practice of DL both on a DMO level and for individual DMO member organisations.

Cross-case comparison of DMOs adopting a DL approach

Conducting an investigation, which involves a cross-case comparison can potentially yield further important insights with regard to how DL is enacted and practised in different DMO contexts and across geographies. As such, this approach can enable the scholarly community to compare and contrast the enactment and practice of DL across DMO structures and their operational contexts. A cross-case comparison of DMOs adopting a DL approach is also likely to identify other potential leader types and network leadership behaviours beyond the six types of leader identified in this study. Indeed, Small and Rentsch (2010) call for further research into the distribution of contrasting leadership behaviours and operationalising DL, and although this study made an attempt to address this call, there is clearly scope for more research in this direction. Conducting a cross-case comparison can shed light on different DMO approaches to restructuring their organisations as a response to government expectations to adopt a more inclusive leadership role, which may or may not necessarily be linked to DL.

The role of network champions in promoting DL

Gibb (1954), the initiator of DL, argues that leadership behaviours involving setting direction and aligning resources, rarely reside with only one individual, particularly in times of change as is the case with reshaped DMOs in England. Building on this, Buchanan et al. (2007) suggest that network champions and the interplay between them could be seen as an important vehicle to the enactment and promotion of DL across networks and organisations. This calls for recognition of the importance of leadership champions as a reflection of the distributed dimension of leadership in order to further promote DL across the complete DMO network. The collective of leadership champions uncovered within each of the six cohorts of leaders provides an opportunity for leadership champions to support the enactment and practice of DL further across the network. Hence, further enquiry into the role of network champions in embedding DL practice across the complete network of DMO member organisations is encouraged.

Advances in visualising processes and practices related to DL

Cullen and Yammarino (2014) calls for the need to introduce novel insights into the illustration of methodologies for studying leadership and its networked or distributed dimension. This study attempts to make progress into visualising processes and practices related to DL in networked organisations on board of a DMO by introducing and putting into practice a visually-driven framework, and as such, respond to their call.

However, a much more in-depth response is needed – one which is grounded in visual network analytics. It should strive to incorporate advances in visualising and simplifying DL development processes and practices. An approach which turns complex scientific numbers into simplified depictions, which are understandable and address the world of practice, presents an exciting, but still largely challenging avenue for further research. Importantly, network visualisations play a substantial role in fuelling the process of theory building – new insights into investigated matters can emerge through scrutinising network depictions (Conway and Steward, 1998; Moody et al., 2005).

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