Introducing core DAO leadership [long read]
At talentDAO we set out to study leadership in the decentralized world of work. We are building our point of view on high-quality, high-applicability leadership research. Our research protocol consists of:
This essay is the output of step 1 and 2. We reviewed 40 studies that used meta-analytic or systematic review methods, conducted over the last 25 years. These studies pool together quantitative results on specific research questions using the whole body of scientific evidence to date. Hence, the 40 studies represent around 5400 primary leadership studies with a total sample size of hundreds of thousands of leaders across a wide range of organizational settings. Given the characteristics of this evidence base, we expect the findings to generalize to different contexts, including decentralized autonomous organizations.
You can find more details about our research project here.
Leadership enables organizations to function effectively, directing, inspiring, and coordinating the efforts of individuals, teams, and organizations toward the realization of collective goals (Carter, 2015). Leadership research started getting attention after World War II. Over the past 70 years the field has grown exponentially through multiple «waves» of research: from simple behavioral theories, to more sophisticated cognitive explanations, to the emergence of leadership in complex, dynamic networks (Lord, 2017).
Leadership is conceptualized as a «dyadic, shared, relational, strategic, global, and a complex social dynamic» (Avolio, 2009). In one-word leadership means influence. Leadership synonyms are power, authority, decision-making.
DAO stands for decentralized autonomous organization. We defined a DAO as a blockchain-enabled organization with shared community, purpose, and capital.
For many people talking about leadership in DAOs is an oxymoron. In fact, claims about DAO leadership abound: they are leaderless, there are no bosses, software rules aka «code is law». Yet how can DAOs coordinate without leadership? What if everyone is a leader instead?
The rise of decentralized organizational designs and self-managing teams calls for new inquiry into what constitutes leadership. Given the decentralized nature of DAOs, we have been looking for more appropriate forms of group leadership than hierarchical leadership. We noticed the leadership field is moving from a leader-centric and individual-level phenomenon, to a dynamic and interactive group-emergent property, as captured by research on shared, distributed, and collective leadership in the realm of network science (e.g., Carter et al. 2015; Contractor et al. 2012; Scott-Young et al. 2019). As such, we provisionally define DAO leadership as:
a dynamic, emergent group property in which people flexibly lead one another - selectively using skills and expertise based on the evolving needs and context of the DAO - by sharing responsibility to perform specific leadership behaviors to achieve group or organizational goals
At a deeper level, let’s distinguish what DAO leadership is, and what it is not:
DAOs are neither horizontal by default nor are hierarchical by destiny. We assert that core DAO leadership is shared rather than centralized in the hands of a single person. When we form a shared leadership culture in a team, members co-govern, participate in decision-making, undertake their tasks collectively, and occasionally offer guidance to other team members to achieve their common goals. Leaders emerge formally or informally based on the needs of a situation, so there is no one leader but multiple ones. Research on forms of collective leadership shows that shared leadership correlates with team performance, team viability (i.e., how much a team stick together), and team attitudinal outcomes, behavioral processes and emergent team states (D’Innocenzo, 2016; Wu, 2018; Wang 2014; Nicolaides, 2014); in particular, shared team leadership is a stronger predictor of team outcomes compared to hierarchical leadership in teams that are more virtual in nature (Hoch, 2014; Greer, 2018).
Our research points to three pre-conditions for shared leadership to emerge: shared purpose, social support, and voice (Wu, 2020). These factors require you to set up structural supports to ensure the group know where to go and how to get there (shared purpose), lend a hand to each other (social support), and can influence team direction and actions (voice). When shared purpose, social support, and voice exist in groups, teams are more likely to provide leadership and to respond to the leadership of others. When people share a common purpose, they are more committed to their work and more motivated to participate in leadership activities. Social support instead creates an environment where group members can collaborate better and feel responsible for results. Finally, when group members are willing to speak up and get involved, they are more likely to exercise leadership.
So far we discussed shared, distributed, collective leadership as the underlying framework of DAO leadership. We also outlined the necessary conditions for these forms of leadership to emerge, namely, shared purpose, social support and voice. What we are left to answer though is what is the content of leadership? What is actually shared in DAO leadership?
There are four categories of leadership behaviors that predict individual and organizational outcomes: people, task, change, and self-leadership (adapted from Yukl, 2002). To determine what is shared in DAO leadership we use this simple yet meaningful conceptualization:
Researchers used this taxonomy to cluster multiple leadership models under each category and test their predictivity over outcomes. Our research shows that:
Before diving into the framework, we need to correct a common misconception: people were born with a natural gift for leadership. This fixed mindset of you either are or are not a leader is as false as it is counterproductive. DeRue (2011) investigated whether innate characteristics like personality traits (conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, openness to experience, emotional stability) and intelligence were more important than behaviors in predicting individual leader outcomes. The conclusion is that what you do matters more than who you are, that is, leadership behaviors predict outcomes like leader effectiveness, group performance, follower job satisfaction, and satisfaction with leaders, more than leader traits do. Of course genes impact where the journey begins and may explain the speed with which you pick up leadership skills, however genetics doesn’t determine the destination. In fact, progress comes from luck and a whole lot of practice.
One of the prerequisites for leading is to be motivated to lead. According to Chan and Drasgow (2001) there are three types of motivation to lead:
Those who have more motivation to lead are more likely to emerge as leaders, engage in beneficial leadership behaviors, and perform more effectively in leadership roles (Badura, 2020). Given the emergent nature of leadership in DAOs, the first question to ask is: Do I want to put my skin in the game?
Many leadership models exist today. Since «all models are wrong, but some are useful» (Box, 1976), we sought to separate the wheat from the chaff. We built our framework for DAO leadership to include only leadership models that predict individual and organizational outcomes across many organizational contexts. We have left out those models that, despite looking sound at face value, did not add anything to the more established frameworks.
In the next sections, we define leadership behaviors within the people, task, change, and self-leadership categories, outline what they are made of, and list the main outcomes they correlate with.
Self-leadership means leading from the inside out: you influence yourself through your own thoughts and behaviors before even thinking of influencing and leading others.
Manz (1986) defined self-leadership as:
a comprehensive self-influence perspective that concerns leading oneself toward performance of naturally motivating tasks as well as managing oneself to do work that must be done, but is not naturally motivating
At the heart of self-leadership there is your choice of higher-level objectives you want to achieve and the actions you take to regulate or control tactical behaviors to support such objectives. Research points to using two sets of strategies to lead yourself effectively: behavioral and cognitive strategies (Harari, 2021; Knotts, 2021; Krampitz, 2021).
Behavioral strategies involve self-observation, goal setting, reward, and cueing.
Cognitive strategies include natural rewards, using mental imagery, developing effective self-talk, and challenging beliefs and assumptions.
Our research shows that applying a mix of behavioral and cognitive self-leadership strategies correlates with:
Leading people means giving attention to people before tasks. Leaders challenge team members to put the interests of the team ahead of their personal interest, encourage them to do more than they get money for, and support them to feel comfortable working autonomously. People leadership behaviors include transformational leadership, empowering leadership, and servant leadership.
Bass & Avolio (1994) defined transformational leadership as:
helping team members to move beyond their self-interest by challenging them and by stimulating creativity in their efforts to solve problems
Transformational leadership involves four sets of behaviors: individualized consideration, intellectual stimulation, inspirational motivation, and idealized influence. While the first fall within people leadership, the last three behaviors better suit change leadership behaviors that we will discuss later.
Judge & Piccolo (2004) defined individualized consideration as:
the degree to which the leader attends to each follower’s needs, acts as a mentor or coach to the follower, and listens to the follower’s concerns and needs
The goal here is to maintain close social relationships and group cohesion using two-way open communication to build mutual respect and trust. Borrowing from DeRue (2011), giving people individualized consideration boils down to:
Transformational leadership outcomes
Our research shows that transformational leadership behaviors correlate with:
Sharma & Kirkman (2015) defined empowering leadership as:
leader behaviors directed at individuals or entire teams consisting of delegating authority to people, promoting their self-directed and autonomous decision making, coaching, sharing information, and asking for input
Empowering leadership means getting yourself out of the way by sharing power. If you have status and authority in your organization, empowerment translates into distributing decision making or leadership authority, encouraging others to express opinions and ideas, and supporting information sharing and teamwork. More specifically, empowering leadership behaviors include:
Empowering leadership outcomes
Our research shows that empowering leadership behaviors correlate with:
Eva et al. (2019) defined servant leadership as:
an other-oriented approach to leadership, manifested through one-on-one prioritizing of follower individual needs and interests, and outward reorienting of their concern for self towards concern for other within the organization and the larger community
Spears (2010) advanced 10 characteristics of servant leaders, including listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of others, and building community. While servant leadership overlaps with transformational or charismatic leadership, it’s conceptually distinct as it adds moral behaviors:
Servant leadership outcomes
Our research shows that servant leadership behaviors correlate with:
Leading tasks means doing what it takes to get the job done, such as determining goals and expectations, clarifying roles, creating plans, monitoring the team's progress over outcomes, and sharing rewards and recognition for achievements. Task leadership behaviors include initiating structure, transactional leadership, boundary spanning, and laissez-faire leadership.
Burke (2006) defined initiating structure as:
emphasizing the accomplishment of task objectives by minimizing role ambiguity and conflict
Here leaders work to clarify a sense of direction and purpose for the group using two means:
Initiating structure outcomes
Our research shows that initiating structure behaviors correlate with:
Burns (1978) defined transactional leadership as:
involving dyadic exchanges in which the leader provides praise, rewards, or withholds punishment from another person who complies with expectations
Transactional leadership is made of three dimensions:
Transactional leadership outcomes
Our research shows that transactional leadership behaviors correlate with:
Brown and Eisenhardt (1995) defined boundary spanning as:
politically oriented communication that increases the resources available to the team and networking communication which expands the amount and variety of information that is available to the team
Boundary spanners work with others outside the team, scan the environment, and negotiate resources for the team, acquiring information to maintain situational awareness and facilitate effective problem solving. Behaviors may include:
Boundary spanning outcomes
Our research shows that boundary spanning behaviors correlate with:
Judge and Piccolo (2004) defined laissez-faire leaders as:
characterized by avoiding decisions and being hesitant and absent when needed
Laissez-faire leadership reflects a complete absence of leadership behavior. Basically, leaders do nothing of what a situation asks for: they simply hide in plain sight. While it is important to learn behaviors that drive positive outcomes, it’s equally important to learn which behaviors drive negative outcomes.
Laissez-faire leadership outcomes
Our research shows that passive leadership behaviors drive negative outcomes by lowering:
Leading change encompasses actions such as developing and communicating a vision for change, making strategic and tactical decisions, and encouraging innovative thinking and risk taking. Change leadership involves charismatic leadership, instrumental leadership, and intellectual stimulation.
Charisma is not a miraculous ability, rather it is an effective way of saying things.
Antonakis et al. (2016) defined charismatic leadership as:
values-based, symbolic, and emotion-laden leader signaling
Charismatic leaders enhance followers by promoting social coordination through effective messaging. When convincing, people may give up their autonomy in favor of the leader's goals, such as working toward a specific cause. According to Antonakis (2016) charisma comprises three sets of behaviors:
These behaviors translate practically in what Antonakis (2017) defined as Charismatic Leadership Tactics: six verbal and three non-verbal communication techniques.
Charismatic leadership outcomes
Our research shows that charismatic leadership behaviors correlate with:
Antonakis and House (2014) defined instrumental leadership as:
the application of leader expert knowledge on monitoring the environment and performance, and the implementation of strategic and tactical solutions
Instrumental means just that: serving as a means to an end, that is, accomplishing the core functions of an organization such as meeting its objectives, adapting to its environment, and maintaining the stability of its system (Argyris, 1964).
According to Antonakis and House two dimensions make up the framework of instrumental leadership: strategic leadership and work facilitation. Each dimension comprises two sets of behaviors.
Instrumental leadership outcomes
Our research shows that instrumental leadership behaviors correlate with:
Judge & Piccolo (2004) defined intellectual stimulation as:
the degree to which the leader challenges assumptions, takes risks, and solicits creative ideas
Another facet of transformational leadership, intellectually stimulating people means engaging in unconventional behavior and not maintaining the status quo. This include:
Intellectual stimulation outcomes
Our research shows that intellectual stimulation correlates with:
In this essay we synthesized the four categories of leadership behaviors that drive individual and team outcomes regardless of the organizational context. This evidence-base builds on decades of field research in the realm of organizational science, accounting for hundreds of thousands of participants in several organizational settings.
Sharing leadership means taking ownership of your behaviors, acting in ways that prompt the team processes that underlie team effectiveness. Since leaders’ behavior can have powerful impacts on collectives like teams, units, and organizations, our aim has been to give DAO members the means to an end, that is, evidence-based recommendations on which leadership behaviors to perform to drive DAO outcomes. Are you motivated to lead? Core DAO leadership equips you with the leadership skillset you can practice to drive progress, spur commitment, galvanize coordination, and contribute to make decentralized work become the future of work.
To reward our first research milestone and collect funds for our future research plan, we minted DAO Leadership NFT Editions. This tiered collection provides the following benefits (adding up from lower to upper tier):
The NFT Art represents an ecosystem being built on the shoulders of a sapient giant. People cooperate building megastructures and operating machines that recall the notable Italian inventor Leonardo Da Vinci. With the third eye wide open, the sapience, the giant supports us in building the new world of decentralized work.
This essay was written by Mr.Nobody in collaboration with Lisa Wocken. Cover illustration by Testasecca. We thank Kenneth Francis, ItamarGo, Lia Godoy, Saulthorin, and Riccardo Barbieri for their helpful feedback and support.
All writers’ opinions in this article are their own and do not constitute financial advice in any way whatsoever. Nothing published here or on behalf of talentDAO constitute an investment recommendation, nor should any data or content published by talentDAO affiliates be relied upon for any investment activities.
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