This note is about the concept of leadership, especially collective and more-than-human versions of the concept.



How can we define leadership in non-anthropocentric way?

Leadership is a relationship between agents that influences choice making in action selection.

Leadership is:

  • What mechanisms/events control/influence the action/process first (set the schedule, set the budget as per usual, or ensure survival of old trees or habitat retention first, etc.)
  • The adjustment of the slope of probability towards a goal or a tendency
  • A reward or lure for directed actions

Leadership is not:

  • Not tyranny or absolute control

Leadership is a collective phenomenon. It presumes a group with a freedom to chose and the choices that follow some agents rather than others.

Leadership involves subjective risk taking. If there is an evolved preference or some other imposed mechanism, it is not leadership. This does not imply consciousness or self-awareness.

The leader does not need to chose or commit to leadership to lead.

Leadership involves some form of credit from the followers who take risk in following without complete knowledge of the outcomes.

Leadership can result in multiple forms of benefit, not only in the attainment of a goal.

Leadership has persistence across multiple decisions and tolerance towards variable outcomes.

Relational leadership: socially constructed, processual, and emerging.

Uhl-Bien, Mary. ‘Relational Leadership Theory: Exploring the Social Processes of Leadership and Organizing’. The Leadership Quarterly 17, no. 6 (2006): 654–76. https://doi.org/10/dfhbrh.


Nonhuman Expertise

Animals can learn, innovate, have some plasticity. this is interesting but does not have to be crucial. They are successful because they exist (have survived), as such they have done something well.

Dukas, Reuven. ‘Animal Expertise: Mechanisms, Ecology and Evolution’. Animal Behaviour 147 (2019): 199–210. https://doi.org/10/gfsp4n.

Prasher, Sanjay, Julian C. Evans, Megan J. Thompson, and Julie Morand-Ferron. ‘Characterizing Innovators: Ecological and Individual Predictors of Problem-Solving Performance’. PLOS ONE 14, no. 6 (2019): e0217464. https://doi.org/10/gmq6gn.

Rojas-Ferrer, Isabel, and Julie Morand-Ferron. ‘The Impact of Learning Opportunities on the Development of Learning and Decision-Making: An Experiment with Passerine Birds’. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 375, no. 1803 (2020): 20190496. https://doi.org/10/ggzknt.

Snell-Rood, Emilie C., and Sean M. Ehlman. ‘Ecology and Evolution of Plasticity’. In Phenotypic Plasticity & Evolution, edited by David W. Pfennig, 139–60. CRC Press, 2021.

On expertise of leaders in ant teams:

Richardson, Thomas O., Andrea Coti, Nathalie Stroeymeyt, and Laurent Keller. ‘Leadership – Not Followership – Determines Performance in Ant Teams’. Communications Biology 4, no. 1 (2021): 1–9. https://doi.org/10/gmq6nq.

"This article provides evidence indicative of animals meeting each of the three definitions of expertise established in the scientific literature: expertise as a social construction, expertise as exceptional performance, and expertise as knowledge. In addition, cases of deliberate practice by non-human animals are offered. Acknowledging some animals as experts, regardless of consciousness, is warranted by the research findings and would prove useful in solving many issues remaining in the human expertise literature"

Helton, William S. ‘Animal Expertise, Conscious or Not’. Animal Cognition 8, no. 2 (2005): 67–74. https://doi.org/10/b88gx8.

Also in

Helton, William S., and Nicole D. Helton. ‘Expertise in Other Animals: Canines as an Example’. In The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance, edited by K. Anders Ericsson, 2nd ed., 49–59. 2008. Reprint, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

For good definitions and the discussion of 'deliberate practice', with a mention of Helton and animals, see:

Suddendorft, Thomas, Melissa Brinums, and Kana Imuta. ‘Shaping One’s Future Self: The Development of Deliberate Practice’. In Seeing the Future: Theoretical Perspectives on Future-Oriented Mental Time Travel, edited by Kourken Michaelian, Stanley B. Klein, and Karl K. Szpunar, 343–66. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.

This comprehensive book has example on expertise in Insects:

Córdoba-Aguilar, Alex, ed. Insect Behavior: From Mechanisms to Ecological and Evolutionary Consequences. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018.

E.g., leadership in ant and termite teams.

Collective Leadership

Friedrich, Tamara L., William B. Vessey, Matthew J. Schuelke, Gregory A. Ruark, and Michael D. Mumford. ‘A Framework for Understanding Collective Leadership: The Selective Utilization of Leader and Team Expertise Within Networks’. The Leadership Quarterly, 20, no. 6 (2009): 933–58. https://doi.org/10/fqxt9d.

Rosile, Grace Ann, David M Boje, and Carma M. Claw. ‘Ensemble Leadership Theory: Collectivist, Relational, and Heterarchical Roots from Indigenous Contexts’. Leadership 14, no. 3 (2018): 307–28. https://doi.org/10/gdgkt5.


Smith, Jennifer E. ‘Non-Human Leadership’. In Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science, edited by Todd K. Shackelford and Viviana A. Weekes-Shackelford, 1–4. Cham: Springer, 2017.

Huopalainen, Astrid. ‘More-than-Human Leadership? Studying Leadership in Horse–Human Relationships’. In The Oxford Handbook of Animal Organization Studies, edited by Linda Tallberg and Lindsay Hamilton, 87–100. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2022.