Capturing the Processes of Leadership Emergence

By Bryan Acton in Research

March 15, 2022

Leadership is historically studied through the lens of individual leaders. We describe people as either leaderlike or not. We describe historical events through great leaders. We describe horrible events as a failure of leadership.

What this perspective misses is the larger unit that a leader exists within, the collective. The importance of the collective is also emphasized by the fact that most current organizations are shifting to more team-based structures. Gone are everyone following one leader, and in is a flat organization where evenly ranked people work together. As a result, the study of leadership has emphaized the concept of leadership emergence. Emergence answers the question of: how does a collective leadership structure emerge from a team with no designated leaders?

While the study of leadership emergence sounds exciting and timely, there is a problem: most work has focused on individuals rather than collective dynamics 1. This creates a challenge, we know a lot about the characterstics of people who emerge as leaders, but we understand the core rule that determine how a collective leadership emerges.

The goal of this work is to both theorize about and study the actual processes that underlie leadership emergence. I will continually add projects, papers, code, and other materials related to this set of projects.

  1. Acton, B. P., Foti, R. J., Lord, R. G., & Gladfelter, J. A. (2019). Putting emergence back in leadership emergence: A dynamic, multilevel, process-oriented framework. The Leadership Quarterly, 30(1), 145–164. ↩︎