Strategic leadership systems: Viewing top management teams and boards of directors from a multiteam systems perspective


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57 Scopus citations


Top management teams (TMTs) and boards of directors (boards) face increasingly turbulent environments as they strategically lead firms toward superior firm performance. The dominant theoretical lens about these two groups is agency theory, which focuses on the need for independence. We suggest that the environment in which the TMT and board govern is broader than conceptualized by agency theory, and thus theories regarding strategic leadership also require expansion. Drawing from the multiteam systems literature and broader systems theory, we offer a new consideration of the TMT and board as part of a strategic-oriented multiteam system, which we refer to as a strategic leadership system. The core premise of our theorizing is that TMTs and boards that strongly emphasize attention to both working independently and interdependently enhance their group and shared task performance, and in turn, firm performance. We further nuance this theorizing by describing how external environmental characteristics (i.e., munificence, complexity, dynamism) strengthen or weaken the influence of attention to working independently or interdependently, thereby shifting the zones of system effectiveness. Based on this theorizing, we offer a 2 3 2 framework combined with practical recommendations for strategic leaders. Additional implications, limitations, and directions for future research are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)675-701
Number of pages27
JournalAcademy of Management Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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