The environmental problem related to climate change is an important issue of concern. Scientists (e.g., [1
]) believe that the unprecedented climate change and increasingly extreme weathers observed in various regions of the world are caused by rapid global warming in the last few decades. Human contributions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases are blamed as the dominant cause of the observed warming [4
]. Studies (e.g., [7
]) have reported significant associations between various indicators of lifestyle and resource consumption and consequent carbon emissions. Hence, alterations towards an everyday low-carbon lifestyle are the best solution to effectively tackle the issue [15
]. The concept of low-carbon lifestyle generally suggests reducing carbon emission from all aspects of living; in which lifestyle strives to be frugal and recyclable towards zero-wastage. The main focus of low-carbon lifestyle is to reduce individuals’ carbon footprints and minimize the effects of daily lifestyle in causing devastating climate change. Four routine behavior domains are frequently studied to access individuals’ level of low-carbon lifestyle, namely: transportation, food consumption, water and energy use, and waste management (e.g., [18
]). In low-carbon lifestyle campaigns, government policies and programs encourage citizens to adopt low-carbon behaviors in all daily aspects which include using energy-efficient appliances, buying environmental-friendly products, eating organic and locally grown food, using the car less, and seeking alternatives for short trips, better energy and water management and usage, waste segregation and recycling, and less wasting of food [23
]. Collectively, these efforts are aimed specifically at reducing household resource consumption and waste generation.
Nevertheless, it takes more than the effort of one individual to bring out an impactful change. Recent literatures (e.g., [25
]) have suggested that more focus should be placed on the community level because individuals will never have full control of their behavior, mainly because most resource consumption and energy-related behaviors are shaped by technical infrastructures that are largely beyond individual’s control [29
]. Furthermore, individuals’ decisions are framed by social dilemmas [31
] and are rarely made in isolation [32
]. These problems, together with the invisibility of the consequences of their action, lead to a sense of disempowerment that is a major obstacle to adopt low-carbon lifestyles [34
]. A community effort in the form of low-carbon community presents at least a partial solution to these problems of individual behavior change. Such communities can be in the forms of geographic communities as well as communities of interest; both are important channels to reach citizens and diffuse low-carbon lifestyle. According to Eyre et al. [35
], “communities are an essential part of normalizing and embedding behavioral change” [35
] (p. 154). The community must have “the ability to make informed judgements and to take effective decisions regarding the use and management of carbon, through both individual behavior change and collective action” [36
] (p. 2).
Middlemiss and Parrish [37
] highlighted the roles of grassroots agencies and community structures in creating low-carbon communities. A low-carbon community can be fostered through integrated efforts of various actors at multiple levels [38
]. Generally, the local authority and multiple agencies that provide support for the community are entrusted with divergent tasks and functions, suggesting the need for interrelated and cohesive efforts spearheaded by an effective leadership [42
]. The journey towards realizing a low-carbon community requires some form of leadership which spans groups of institutions, each of which have their own leadership structures and processes [44
]. Individuals at all levels need to provide leadership for change and they need to work together to promote and support change [43
Scholars (e.g., [48
]) suggest that the notion of distributed leadership is a good way of considering leadership within and between agencies and communities which are members of the same network, particularly by those who have constructed alliances, support, systems and collaborative cultures. A distributed leadership perspective recognizes that there are multiple leaders [50
] and that leadership activities are widely shared within and between organizations [51
]. It focuses on the interactions rather than the actions of those in leadership roles and acknowledges the work of all individuals who contribute to leadership practice, whether or not they are formally designated as leaders [52
There are few clear definitions of distributed leadership. However, literature shows that the works of James Spillane [50
] and Peter Gronn [56
] have provided the most developed theoretical models of distributed leadership. Spillane [53
] suggests that distributed leadership is best understood as practice distributed over leaders, followers and their situation and incorporates the activities of multiple groups of individuals [53
]. Spillane [54
] theorizes two aspects of distributed leadership: the leader-plus aspect and the practice aspect. His theory implies a social distribution of leadership where the leadership function is stretched over the work of a number of individuals and the task is accomplished through the interaction of multiple leaders [50
]. Meanwhile, Gronn [56
] focuses on distributed leadership as a concertive action and viewed distributed leadership as a fluid and emergent phenomenon where a group or a network of individuals interacts. He identifies two broad meanings of distributed leadership; one is concerning the aggregated leadership behaviors of multiple leaders, in which leadership is the outcome of distinct but inter-connecting initiatives by a variety of people; while the second focuses on the network of leadership that emerges from the various interactions, where distributed leadership is not the agency of individuals, but conjoint agency, or the concertive labor performed by interdependent organization members [56
]. In sum, Spillane [54
] and Gronn [57
] view distributed leadership as leadership that is shared amongst organizational members in which decision-making is governed by the interaction of individuals. Gronn [57
] suggests that concertive forms of distributed leadership can take the form of spontaneous collaboration, role-sharing, or institutionalized means of working together, such as a committee or team structures.
Most advocates agree that distributed leadership is not the anti-thesis of top-down, hierarchical leadership (e.g., [52
]) but essentially involves the vertical and lateral dimensions of leadership practice, encompasses both formal and the informal forms. Bennett et al. [58
] noted that conceptions of distributed leadership often signal the openness of boundaries and describe its ability to encourage the development of networks rather than relying on traditional hierarchically structured decision-making and communication concept. Nevertheless, many authors (e.g., [60
]) argue that the leader plus concept or multiple sources of influence [54
] attached to the notion of distributed leadership, does not imply in any way that formal leaders are now redundant as distributed leadership practice also means actively, brokering, facilitating and supporting the leadership of others [63
]. Their findings indicate how some forms of distributed leadership work well with strong leadership from senior leaders, and while bound by aims and values set by superior levels within and beyond the organization [64
]. As distribution of leadership varies in the balance between the amount of control and autonomy that participants are able to exercise, a closer look at team dynamics is necessary in understanding the practice of distributed leadership [66
]. Findings by Kets de Vries [67
] indicate that distributed leadership promotes effective teamwork where relationships are based on trust, mutual protection and support, open communication, strong sharing of common goals, values and beliefs, and most importantly, all members are empowered to make decisions. Based on case studies concerning leadership in schools, Harris [52
] summarizes the common principles that identify distributed leadership to include:
multiple levels of involvement in decision-making
it focuses on improving practice or instruction
it encompasses both formal and informal leaders
it links vertical and lateral leadership structures
it is flexible and versatile
it is fluid and interchangeable.
Meanwhile, Copland [68
] sets forth preconditions that must exist in the organization if distributed leadership is to be successful. These include:
The development of a culture within the organization that embodies collaboration, trust, professional learning and reciprocal accountability.
Strong consensus regarding the important problems facing the organization.
A need for rich expertise with approaches to improving knowledge and skills among members of the organization.
A number of studies have demonstrated the powerful relationship between distributed leadership and positive organizational change (e.g., [51
]) and that distributed leadership practice is likely to equate with improved organization performance and outcomes (e.g., [75
]). However, Spillane and Diamond [50
] rightly pointed out that in understanding the effects of distributed leadership, it is not enough to note that
leadership is distributed, but more importantly how
leadership is distributed. Spillane [54
] identifies three types of leadership distribution in co-performance of leadership and management activities: collaborated, collective, and, coordinated. Gronn [57
] in his theory of distributed leadership suggests that “concertive actions” of leadership can take the forms of spontaneous collaboration, intuitive working relations, or institutionalized practices. Meanwhile, Gunter [76
] argues that describing distributed leadership requires looking at power sources and interactions. Gunter [76
] proposes three characterizations of distributed leadership that include authorized, dispersed, and democratic. According to Gunter [76
], authorized distributed leadership refers to leadership that is distributed through delegation and empowerment, where formal leaders seek to develop others for leadership roles within the organization. This type of leadership is similar to Woods et al. [66
] “delegated leadership” where team members accept the leadership role, but their leadership is still dependent on those who hold formal leadership position. The second characterization, dispersed distributed leadership, is where leadership activity takes place “without the formal working of a hierarchy” [76
] (p. 52). This reflects that a distributed leadership is an emergent property of a group or network of individuals in which group members pool their expertise, to work together in ways that work best [56
]. In democratic distributed leadership, the emphasis for concerted effort goes “beyond the instrumentality of organizational goal” [76
] (p. 56) to a wider democratic setting. Gunter [76
] suggests that authorized and dispersed categories can provide frames for describing distributed leadership practice and the underlying assumptions about power; democratic, however, should be used as a separate frame because critiques of this setting needs to engage with what is the purpose behind the power.
We found that despite the various claims of positive effects of distributed leadership practices, very few studies that acknowledge the different patterns of leadership distribution (e.g., [59
]) and fewer (e.g., [81
]) that examined their relations with organizational outcomes. Furthermore, literature shows that the majority of texts produced on distributed leadership were based on examination in the context of school and educational improvement and rarely in community engagement settings (e.g., [49
]). We believe that distributed leadership warrants consideration as a conceptual framework for leadership of intra- and inter-organizational functions such as community engagement. We use an ongoing project called Putrajaya Low-carbon City Initiatives in Malaysia to explore the approach of promoting the low-carbon lifestyle through distributed leadership practices. We posit that dimensions of distributed leadership practices provide a promising tool for understanding of the interactions, the nature and patterns of distributed leadership in this community engagement. Specifically, the aim of the study is to investigate how distributed leadership practices relate to the adoption of low-carbon lifestyle among a sample of community leaders in Putrajaya. In doing so, we intend to examine the relationship between the different patterns of distributed leadership and the low-carbon lifestyle program outcome. We also seek to investigate if there are significant predictors of the level of adoption of low-carbon lifestyles and then determine the contribution of predictor variables towards the variance of the level of adoption.
The current research findings highlight the importance of leadership in ensuring the success of diffusion and adoption of the new lifestyle by the community. In general, the findings from this study are consistent with previous studies (for example, [35
]) which concluded that leadership is an important driver of community emission reduction efforts. In this scenario, leadership revolves around the activity and the act of influencing in realizing the low-carbon city objectives. To stimulate individual citizens’ behavior change, leaders must take the lead by adopting a model consisting of four E’s that is to “exemplify”, “enable”, “engage”, and “encourage” low-carbon behavior [90
]. The results of this study indicated that about 85% of the community leaders have reported moderate to high level of low-carbon lifestyle. This is perhaps not a satisfactory achievement considering that the community leaders are fully aware of the programs due to their involvement in the RAC committees. This suggests that it will take a longer time for the low-carbon lifestyle agenda to trickle down and be adopted by the community.
Scholars and practitioners (e.g., [92
]) suggest that the style of leadership adopted is particularly important in achieving organizational goals and in evoking performance among subordinates. This study followed the path of authors (e.g., [53
]) who examined leadership from a distributed perspective with the focus on the leadership practices that take shape from the interaction of leaders, followers, and their situation. One of the most noteworthy aspects of our analysis is the large proportion of the variance in the adoption of low-carbon lifestyle (51.6%) that is accounted for by the dimensions reflecting distributed leadership. These dimensions portray distributed leadership practices and variations in the low-carbon city agenda. The present study extends our understanding of the underlying patterns of program effectiveness associated with distributed leadership practices (e.g., [51
]). We created a hypothesis that includes eight dimensions of distributed leadership (vision, organizational framework, organizational culture, consensus, instructional program, expertise, team leader leadership, team member leadership) extracted from Spillane’s theory [53
] and Gronn’s multiple leadership approach [57
] as well as from the literature on this topic.
In this study, we examined the relationship between each of the dimensions and low-carbon city outcomes. The literatures on distributed leadership supported the positive results that were documented in this study. Findings from this study provided empirical evidence that a distributed approach in leadership is able to influence the outcome of low-carbon city agenda. The findings concurred with studies that suggest the potentially positive effects of distributed leadership on goal achievement (e.g., [98
]) and also on improved organizational outcomes (e.g., [72
Leadership in the low-carbon city agenda is a shared and collaborative process of mobilizing people towards the achievements of a common goal. The collaborative process emphasis on the participation of the community and thrives on a strong network of interdependent relationships [42
]. In such collaboration, informal influence may be more important than formal power [105
Distributed leadership is enacted not only through the behavior of leaders but also through the collaboration structures and range of processes and activities. This study has demonstrated that a distributed leadership must be nurtured through organizational cultures that emphasis on cooperation and teamwork [106
] and organizational-wide consensus among members around a set of shared assumptions, values and beliefs [107
]. Such organizational cultures are important in creating consistency in perceptions, interpretations and actions of organizational members, and foster unity of purpose and action [108
]. Literatures have often cited organizational culture as the main reason for the failure in implementing organizational change programs (e.g., [109
]). In our study, an officer from the lead agency commented that it is nearly impossible to nurture and maintain such organizational culture because the members are always changing. He stated, “90% of the community population are government servants who are constantly transferred to and from other locations. In addition, the residents’ association committees are replaced after a term of two years causing difficulty in maintaining an effective network.”
We found that a dispersed and inclusive leadership positively affect the effectiveness of the low-carbon lifestyle programs. Our findings corroborate findings by Sammons et al. [69
] who suggest that greater involvement in leadership practice is associated with better organizational performance and outcomes. Our findings suggest that providing leadership opportunities and openness to contribution of views and ideas will accelerate the drive towards realizing a low-carbon city. This concurs with Hargreaves [111
] who asserts that ‘a network increases the pool of ideas on which any member can draw and their networks extend and enlarge the communities of practice with enormous potential benefits’ [111
] (p. 9). Hence, leadership in the low-carbon community agenda should be inclusive and accessible to all people with the motivation and commitment to action.
Multiple leaders are valuable because the knowledge and issues concerning the new lifestyle paradigm can become too complicated for only a few leaders to understand [93
]. Allowing people from different degrees of expertise to take up leadership roles will help to smooth the diffusion process. This suggests that the emphasis on the local authority as the primary change agent in the low-carbon city agenda should be refocused to include other leadership sources or agents at relatively lower levels in the hierarchy. This is particularly important because RAC chairmen and RAC committee members are influential opinion leaders in the community thus could be effective agents in influencing others to adopt low-carbon lifestyle. As the lead agency, the local authority is in a strong position to provide leadership due to its position of authority, but equally important, however, is to provide opportunities and encourage other members which include community leaders and other potential leaders to take part in leading. Empowerment and facilitating access for all members [112
] to the agenda are central in cultivating trust and commitment to the collaboration. This can be carried out by creating specific leadership activities or processes that involve team members in the collaboration. Another approach is to invest in capacity building for members. Leadership capacity building policies in the low-carbon city initiatives need to focus on strategies that emphasis on building commitment to the low-carbon city agenda particularly strategies to enhance the perception of a common vision, shared responsibilities, and equality in decision making. According to Avery [93
], decisions need not be unanimous but can be based on consensus. Additionally, accountability and responsibility should be shared as well.
Although our findings indicate that distributed leadership is practiced at moderate level in the low-carbon initiative, we found that the leadership is more prominently characterized as authorized distributed leadership. This characterization of leadership is described as not a very dynamic or necessarily productive one in regard to sustained activity [76
] and is associated with a culture of “contrived collegiality” [113
] where collaborative working relationships are not spontaneous, voluntary and unpredictable but can be characterized on the contrary as administratively regulated and controlled, compulsory, implementation-oriented (putting into practice what others have decided and designed). Perhaps what is delegated to team members (or RACs) was often not leadership but instead management or administrative functions [114
]. According to Hargreaves [113
], contrived collegiality does not contribute to further development of team member’s leadership.
Our findings also concur with observations by Day et al. [115
] that distributed leadership where it went beyond routine delegation, cultivated a sense of ownership and agency. We noted that community leaders are eager to initiate and lead their own pro-environmental programs such as forming environmental teams in promoting pro-environmental behaviors in their communities. Utilizing their close contact with members of their community, environmental teams will be important drivers for the effective implementation of low-carbon lifestyle campaigns and programs. These groups of individuals can share knowledge and experiences, propose ideas on how to enhance the adoption of low-carbon practices and provide support to community. The teams can play a role in the development of environmental policies, targets and action plans that involve their locality. According to Middlemiss and Parrish [37
] grassroots initiatives drawn on the capacity of their community can be useful to break current social boundaries and create new capacities for social change. The current research findings also suggest a need for low-carbon lifestyle promotional programs to be designed according to the contexts within the communities. Establishing meaningful dialogues within the communities, between citizens and government agencies, and also involving other related bodies is important in solving the many and inter-related issues. Also, frequent community engagements and open communications may help in cultivating ownership and curtail fervent resistance to change. According to Kaplan [116
], individuals are effectively empowered to create behavior change when they are clearly informed that their individual actions can significantly make a difference in the community.
Although the design of this study do not allow generalization and suggestion of causal effects, the implication of the results to research and practices are quite significant. The findings of the present study contribute to a better understanding of the influence of leadership in the adoption of a low-carbon lifestyle. The present study has examined the roles of grassroots leaders in diffusing and implementing organization’s vision in the communities. Rather than focusing on leaders, or top leadership team as the primary change agents, we highlighted the role of followers in the complex processes involved in diffusing any new idea, throughout an organization or a community. Findings from study suggest that the emphasis on top leaders as the primary change agents in the green city agenda should be refocused to include other leadership sources or agents at relatively lower levels in the hierarchy. The findings also indicated that grassroots leaders have different needs and perceptions on how leaders influence them. Additionally, the findings suggest that grassroots leaders were differently affected by each dimension of distributed leadership, thus they also differed in their receptivity to a leader’s ideas and potential influence. Even more so, findings from the present study emphasized the importance of distributing leadership roles to committee members in formulating and leading such programs at community level or perhaps at a higher level. Hence, committee members should be roped in through engagements and open communication channels and given clear instructions on how to lead low-carbon programs in their communities.
In this study, we developed and empirically tested a hypothesized model that examined the relationship between distributed leadership as perceived by a group of leaders situated at a lower position in the organization’s hierarchy and their adoption of the new lifestyle. We have empirically demonstrated that a distributed approach in leadership is able to enhance the outcome of the low-carbon city agenda. Using the framework of distributed leadership, our findings suggest that to perform as a holistic system, the low-carbon city framework must align goals, coordinate processes and resources, and include multiple expertise. It is evident from the findings that an organizational culture that facilitate multiple sources of leadership may contribute to the effectiveness of distributed leadership practices in propelling the low-carbon city agenda. While the program design targets the community citizens, agencies must first focus on their leaders who will be the communication channels or agents tasked to sell the idea. Evidence here suggests the need to provide for leadership capacity building that is inclusive of all leaders in order to create an overall strong and efficient leadership team in the low-carbon city agenda. An organizational culture that is based on shared values and visions shared among all members in the organizations will be a vital source of organizational commitment.
Within the context of Putrajaya Low-carbon City Initiatives, a dispersed pattern in distributing leadership is required to enhance community engagement. Thus, this study suggests that the distribution of leadership in such community be expanded to include other potential leaders and wider range of expertise. More importantly, perception that leadership is distributed must be promoted to encourage participation by the different hierarchies in the configuration. The findings of this study is however limited to the residential community of Putrajaya. Inclusion of all communities involved in the low-carbon city network such as the business community, civil servant community, and government agencies would perhaps provide a more complete assessment.