A process perspective on collective leadership

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The need for applying a process view on organizations has been raised repetitively throughout the last decades (Langley, 2007, Langley et al., 2013), and the studies that empirically investigate organizational phenomena by means of a process lens have among other things highlighted the centrality of time, the prevalence of paradoxes and dialectics, and the multilevel nature of organizational phenomena (Langley et al. 2013). An organizational process view has been defined as “considering phenomena dynamically” (Langley 2007:271), thus highlighting its focus on movement, change and temporality (van de Ven, 1992). Hence, from a process perspective, it is the emergence, development, growth and termination of organizational phenomena that is central (Langley et al, 2013). In this paper, we are interested in contributing to process research by uncovering the underlying interactive processes that constitute the emergence of collective leadership understood as the close coordination and collaboration of leadership related actions (Denis, Lamothe & Langley, 2001). Despite its rather every-day, mundane nature, we argue that the interactional accomplishments performed by organizational members in relation to employee complaints in performance appraisal interviews (PAIs) is an exemplary empirical case for studying the processual aspects of collective leadership understood in accordance with Yukl’s definition (2013), and in specific the responsibility taking as a central leadership activity. In this paper, we propose an alternative methodological way of approaching leadership to draw out the collective foundations of interactive and processual leadership work. The micro ethnographic perspective (LeBaron, 2008) applied makes visible ‘the collectiveness itself” and how manager and employee together with an array of material artefacts collectively co-create leadership in terms of taking on managerial responsibility towards complaint resolution, not in the abstract, but in the context of real-time interactional processes. The central concern becomes the ways in which manager and employee organize their communicative conduct in the process by means of materiality and sense-making of each other’s actions for the practical accomplishment of managerial responsibility. This includes how verbal, bodily and material resources are deployed during the PAIs in the coordination of the complaint interaction. Research aim Hence, the purpose of the paper is at a micro-level to empirically investigate how managerial responsibility as a central part of leadership is constituted collectively over time by means of intersubjective, interactive practices. To do so, we investigate employee complaints about non-present co-workers during yearly PAIs. Our study contributes to the understanding of PAIs as intersubjective events constitutive of the emergence of managerial responsibility in the overall activity of collective leadership (Aggerholm & Asmuß, 2016). Specifically, we pursue the following research question: How is managerial responsibility collectively constituted over time and how does this shed light on a processual perspective on collective leadership? By raising a complaint about a non-present co-worker, a number of dialectical dilemmas arise for the manager in terms of displaying herself as taking responsibility: the employee invites and expects the manager to respond and act in a certain way, and the manager can either claim responsibility for solving the conflict or shift the responsibility for conflict resolution onto the employee. On top of dealing with the aspect of responsibility, the manager also needs to balance between on the one hand the need to acknowledge the complaint of the co-present employee while on the other hand to refrain from appearing disloyal towards the non-present employee, who is the focus of the complaint. The various ways in which these dialectical dilemmas collaborately are dealt with in the PAI interaction will be addressed in the analysis and the results will be discussed in relation to a processual perspective on collective leadership. Research design The data for the current study comes from an extensive corpus of video-taped, authentic, face-to-face performance appraisal interviews. The data consist of in total 30 hours of PAIs that have been collected during a 4 year-period in two private organizations. The data has been transcribed according to conversation analytic transcription conventions (Atkinson & Heritage, 1984). Starting out with data sessions in order to make first observations, a conversation analytical process continues with a systematic search of similar sequential phenomena (in this case employee complaints about non-present co-workers). After having built a collection of and a careful case-by-case analysis of these instances, in our case 32, the most prevalent cases (here 3) are chosen for this presentation to respond to the research question. Methodologically, the study applies a conversation analytic approach, which enables a focus on talk and interactional processes as both context-shaped and context-renewing (Heritage 1984) revealing the intersubjective nature of organizational phenomena. This corresponds to an understanding of organizational processes as both emergent and generative (Parmigiani & Howard-Grenville, 2011, pp. 421f.), as well as to the product/process duality of organizations (Robichaud et al., 2004), which opens up for an understanding of the constitutive power of talk for the creation of the performative aspects of an organization. Findings and Discussion The micro-level analysis of PAI complaint interaction shows that managerial responsibility is neither present nor non-present. Instead, the display of managerial responsibility is multi-modally and inter-subjectively accomplished since the PAI-participants show an orientation towards different intersubjective strategies related to managerial responsibility in response to the employee complaint. In our analysis these elements relate to aspects of complaint acceptance, problem resolution and managerial agency. The analysis reveals that there are various intersubjective strategies, when it comes to taking managerial responsibility in response to an employee complaint and while some ‘strategies’ seem to mutually determine one another, i.e. without complaint acceptance there will be no problem resolution and/or display of managerial agency, others appear not to do so. Our results indicate that the display of managerial responsibility is not a matter of the amount of ‘strategies’ that are used. Instead, we can see that specific elements of the response to an employee complaint highlight specific aspects of claiming managerial responsibility. As the data evidence, the display of responsibility is not an individual matter tied to rank or position, rather it is a dynamic, interactive and collectively accomplished process among the parties (Holm & Fairhurst, 2018), in which specific elements of the response to an employee complaint highlight specific aspects of claiming managerial responsibility. Hence, the analysis reveals collective leadership processes as closely coordinated and stepwise emerging across time by interactional micro-practices related to managerial responsibility involving multiple contributors (employee and manager). The data evidence the intersubjective and locally situated nature of leadership. By means of the rich, observational video-data and subsequent multimodal conversation analysis, it is possible to reveal the collaborative, co-constructive elements of leadership as a sequential row of carefully designed verbal, embodied and material responses that each make relevant and account for specific leadership actions, making it possible to fully understand this process and the complex network of actions that forms the foundation of leadership. From such socio-constructionist perspective, leadership is not understood as neither an individual trait nor a cognitive process. Instead it is seen as emerging in and through the interplay of subtle interactive discursive and embodied moves. Our study highlights the need to acknowledge the interactional and intersubjective nature of manager-employee encounters for the process of collective leadership, and thus emphasizes the importance of drawing upon novel methodologies related to micro-ethnographical approaches in order to fully capture the multiple resources and micro-social processes of collective leadership.
Publikationsdatojun. 2019
Antal sider25
StatusUdgivet - jun. 2019
Begivenhed11th International Symposium on Process Organization Studies: Organizing in the Digital Age: Understanding the Dynamics of Work, Innovation, and Collective Action - Minoa Palace, Chania, Grækenland
Varighed: 19 jun. 201922 jun. 2019


Konference11th International Symposium on Process Organization Studies
LokationMinoa Palace


  • Medier, kommunikation og sprog