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Collective leadership dynamics among professional peers: Co-constructing an unstable equilibrium

Empson, L. ORCID: 0000-0002-8715-287X & Alvehus, J. (2020). Collective leadership dynamics among professional peers: Co-constructing an unstable equilibrium. Organization Studies, 41(9), pp. 1234-1256. doi: 10.1177/0170840619844291


Professional service firms (PSFs) are characterised by contingent and contested power relations among an extended group of professional peers. Studies of such firms can therefore yield important insights for the literatures on collective leadership and leader–follower relations. Yet to date PSF scholars have neglected the topic of leadership,and leadership scholars have neglected the context of PSFs.Based on 102 interviewsacross the consulting, accounting, and legal sectors, we identify three relational processesthrough which professional peers co-construct collective leadership:legitimising, negotiating, and manoeuvring. We demonstrate how the relational processes taken together constitute an unstable equilibrium, both in the moment and over time, emphasising how leadership in PSFs is inherently contested and fragile. Our model contributes to theories of collective leadership and leader–follower relations by foregrounding the power and politics thatunderlie collective leadership. We highlight the significance of the individual leader within the collective. We challengeassumptionsconcerning the binary nature of leadership and followership,by showing how colleagues may grant leadership identities to their peers without necessarily granting them leadership authority, and without claiming follower identities for themselves.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is the accepted manuscript version of a paper published in 'Organization Studies'
Publisher Keywords: Collective leadership, Leader–follower relations, Contingent authority, Unstableequilibrium, Leadership dynamics, Politics, Professional service firms
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor > HD28 Management. Industrial Management
Departments: Bayes Business School > Management
SWORD Depositor:
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