Department of Management

In search of identity leadership: An ethnographic study of emergent influence in an interorganizational R&D team

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Recent trends in the leadership literature have advanced a relational and processual perspective that sheds light on the way leadership emerges and evolves in dynamic and flexible organizations. However, very few empirical studies have explored these processes over an extended period. To address this lacuna, we report findings from a three-year ethnographic study that explored the emergence and development of leadership in a self-managed interorganizational R&D team. Findings show that in the context of various events that impacted on the team, leadership emerged through interactions, processes and practices that were perceived by team members to develop and advance shared goals and shared identity. Leadership responses to uncertainty surrounding the project were generally legitimated by team members’ background and expertise in relation to this shared identity, while a lack of perceived legitimacy also compromised leadership. These observations are consistent with arguments that leadership revolves around the creation and enactment of shared social identity. However, they also suggest that the form and nature of leadership is hard to predict because it is heavily structured by specific identity-relevant practices and perceptions that arise in the context of unforeseeable events.

Original languageEnglish
JournalOrganization Studies
Pages (from-to)1425-1447
Number of pages23
Publication statusPublished - 2018

    Research areas

  • ethnography, identity leadership, interorganizational R&D, legitimacy, relational leadership, sensemaking

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