Investigating the Dynamism of Change in Leadership Identity

  • Koen Marichal
  • Jesse Segers
  • Karen Wouters
  • Jeroen Stouten
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Leadership and Followership book series (PASTLEFO)


Through an in-depth study of an extreme case, we examined how the identity of vertical leaders was impacted by the distribution of leadership and the implementation of shared leadership within teams in a bureaucratic organization. We conclude that these leaders experienced identity threat and engaged in protecting and restructuring identity work. This process is determined by the leaders’ overall identity management, the strength of their vertical leader identity, and the organization’s sense-giving and sense-breaking practices. Only a few leaders arrive at developing an adapted leader identity, which we call “shared.” This conclusion is especially relevant for bureaucratic organizations which aim to engage in distributed leadership (DL) and rely on their formal, hierarchical leaders to realize that ambition. The study advances our understanding of vertical leadership at the identity level and its role in enhancing DL. Moreover, we answer the call for more in-depth, qualitative leadership research.


Distributed leadership Shared leadership Identity work Leadership identity Leadership development 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Koen Marichal
    • 1
  • Jesse Segers
    • 2
  • Karen Wouters
    • 3
  • Jeroen Stouten
    • 4
  1. 1.Antwerp Management SchoolAntwerp, Flanders SynergyLeuvenBelgium
  2. 2.Antwerp Management SchoolUniversity of AntwerpAntwerpBelgium
  3. 3.Antwerp Management SchoolFlanders SynergyLeuvenBelgium
  4. 4.KU LeuvenLeuvenBelgium

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