Research Summary: DAO Leadership: Building on the shoulders of giants

At talentDAO we set out to study leadership in the decentralized world of work. Working with the support of SCRF to conduct a multi-phased research project, this post announces the first milestone of our research, introducing core DAO leadership.

Link to essay : DAO Leadership: Building on the shoulders of giants

Taking stock of decades of leadership research, we defined 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

Building upon this definition we developed an evidence-based framework of leadership behaviors that drive outcomes applicable in DAOs, hence «building on the shoulders of giants».

The tl;dr is:

  • Self-leadership involves exerting self-influence over one’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors at work.
  • People leadership involves supporting others, caring about their needs and wellbeing, treating group members equally, and being approachable, friendly, and open to input from others.
  • Task leadership involves setting clear expectations, planning tasks, clarifying responsibilities and performance as well as monitoring operations and outcomes.
  • Change leadership involves setting a vision for change, making strategic and tactical decisions, encouraging thinking beyond traditional norms, and taking risks by pushing things forward.

Each category of leadership behaviors breaks down to dimensions that correlate with specific outcomes [more on the essay].

This comprehensive framework will guide our primary field research within DAOs to explore how leadership principles, practices, and behaviors apply in the context of decentralized work and investigate what structural supports are implemented to foster the emerge of shared leadership.

Through this first phase of research we went above and beyond our initial goal, opting for over delivery to not reinvent the wheel further down the road during the second phase of research. Thus the core DAO leadership milestone aims to be the foundation for further studies on coordination within DAOs.

DAO Leadership NFT

To reward our first research milestone and collect funds for our future research plan, we minted DAO Leadership Entry Editions NFT via Mirror. This tiered collection provides the following benefits ( benefits add up from lower to upper tier ):

​​Legendary: NFT Art + talentDAO Genesis Club Eligibility
Rare: NFT Art + Private educational workshop and advisory
Common: NFT Art + Whitelist for all tiers of tDAO membership token + early access to future research via token gated Discord

The NFT Art represents an ecosystem 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. The opera is from Testasecca, an Italian artist who’s just getting into crypto. This is literally his first NFT.

Link to essay: DAO Leadership: Building on the shoulders of giants

Sending a message of gratitude to SCRF team for providing initial support to kick-off our research project, we are looking forward to your feedback and to trigger a vibrating discussion on DAO leadership with SCRF community over here and across social media. Stay tuned on Twitter and LinkedIn to gauge community reactions and participate to discussions.

Pietro Marenco (Mr.Nobody) and Lisa Wocken



Can you tell us a little more about TalentDAO’s mission? Are you creating best practices for decentralized work or is there some other deliverable? I’d also be interested in hearing about some of the sources you’ve been relying on for your literature, did you look at much existing managerial scholarship or have you focused exclusively on decentralized leadership? I’m curious about the differences between the two.



thanks for your inquiry!

About talentDAO
Our mission breaks down to two pieces: 1) Unlock talent. 2) Decentralize knowledge.

  1. Unlock talent. We do scientific research with the goal of discovering patters for effective distributed organizing to make DAOs a desirable alternative to traditional work arrangements.
  2. Decentralize knowledge. We are building the Journal of Decentralized Work (JoDW), the first on-chain peer-review publication in the field of organizational psychology. We are 100% invested in #DeSci.

So essentially we do research & development and the JoDW is the first product we are developing. Other research projects we are working on will likely end into product development with the goal to giving tools to DAOs to operate more effectively. For example, we recently developed the DAO Health Survey to measure the health of a DAO from “the eyes of contributors” and made it open source.

Re:DAO leadership
The rapid review focused on the existing leadership scholarship, including recent advancements in the field of shared/distributed/collective leadership.

The main difference between the two is that traditional leadership literature conceptualized leadership as a leader-centric, individual-level phenomenon, whereas “decentralized leadership” sees leadership as a dynamic and interactive group-emergent property.

So if trad leadership is downward influence, shared leadership involves interactive influence processes. If trad leadership involves formal appointment, shared leadership involves situational leader emergence; if trad leadership is centralized in the hands of a single person, shared leadership is distributed among a set of individuals. And so on.

Yet we are not throwing out the baby with the bathwater: trad leadership has contributed solid empirical theories about what individual leader behaviors drive individual-team-organizational outcomes. So in our analysis, traditional leadership behaviors (e.g., transformational leadership, transactional leadership, etc.) are the object being “shared” among multiple individuals.

Our essay is the result of what the scientific, peer-reviewed, leadership literature contributed to our knowledge of leadership. Our analysis did not include so called “practitioner literature” yet, that is, practical leadership knowledge coming from the the movement of distributed organizing. This literature will be one of the objects of focus in Phase 2 of our research where we will do qualitative research to understand "What is leadership in DAOs? with the goal of building a grounded theory.


Do you have any preliminary thoughts about how decentralized leadership differs from traditional organizational pysch? It must be a fascinating subject to study, I wonder how long these organizations can persist in being effective. To me they seem like they’ll be a completely natural choice for human organization or else totally failure prone. I’m impressed with what I’ve seen from VitaDAO, Bankless and the few other DAOs I’ve followed thus far

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What’s in a name? What someone or something is called or labeled is arbitrary compared to their or its intrinsic qualities - Shakespeare

Even though to answer your question I’d need to draw the conceptual boundaries for “traditional organizational psych”, I won’t get philosophical and try to give you my initial perspective.

As we said above, we are drawing distinctions between hierarchical leadership (formal appointment, top-down influence/control,…) and shared leadership (situational emergence, interactive influence,…), the latter being a more appropriate form of leadership in DAOs.

One key element of DAOs to consider is that they are a) virtual, geographically dispersed groups, of b) highly educated, autonomous professionals, who c) use information technology as an integral part of the work process. In teams operating under these conditions hierarchical leadership is harder for many reasons (e.g., asynchronous work, lower communication richness, etc.) and can be bad: a single leader risks to become a central point of failure.

Instead, for these teams to thrive it’s more important that good structural supports are in place (i.e., fair and reliable reward systems, transparent communication and information management, tools for collective decision-making). These structural characteristics can influence motivation and behavior of members as much as a single individual leader could do. So the extent to which a DAO can persist being effective IMO depends on the extent to which it creates structural supports to enable decentralized leadership/operations. This is to say, the quality of the emerging leaders must become less important than the robustness of the systems that enable leaders to emerge.


I like the idea of the structural characteristics of a DAO or cooperative supporting the natural emergence of leaders who work well under that environment. I think the culture and systems of most orgs attracts those who see themselves in it, so I wonder when it comes to creating these structures, how can DAOs that are scaling fast ensure their protocols are being developed in a way that is attractive and inclusive to diverse groups.


Hello @Mr.Nobody

This is a great piece of information and exposure to the fundamentals of leadership in an organization. It dives deep into the rudimentary features and principles of leadership as a core vision actualization and objective realization in an organization. In terms of DAO as also revealed it seems like an oxymoron however the research proves the areas that when harnessed will provide a holistic view of leadership in and around the decentralized organization.

My concern is around the concept of autonomy with regard to DAO leadership. Recall that to implement the concept of decentralization, there is no authority hence every node is self-reliant and interrelates with every other node in a distributed manner. Can we say that the research was to harness individuals within the DAO with the requisite knowledge to act with authority within the functional role irrespective of the collaborative community?

Flowing from the above it will be of immense benefit to individuals within the functional organization to be well equipped with the fundamental principle and information required to act at any time as the need arises – fully grounded with the necessary skills, while understanding the concept of DAO leadership.


I would like to know more about how on-chain peer review works and what benefits it offers relative to traditional peer review.

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