Leadership and instability


In my recent article for Harvard Business Review, How to Lead Your Fellow Rainmakers, I described how collective leadership actually happens among professionals as they engage in three distinct leadership dynamics - establishing legitimacy, manoeuvring politically, and negotiating perpetually

Now, in an academic article, Collective Leadership Dynamics Among Professional Peers: Co-Constructing an unstable equilibrium, just published in Organization Studies, my co-author Johan Alvehus and I go much, much further.

We look at how these three leadership dynamics unfold in a global professional service firm over a five year period.  We examine in detail the instability at the heart of the leadership dynamics, by mapping the actions of individual leaders and examining how their peers experience, interpret and react to their actions.

The article explains how power relations are in continual flux within professional service firms, representing an unstable equilibrium, whereby a change in any one of the leadership dynamics can destabilise the other two.

Our study shows how the balance of power is stabilized and destabilized by a series of senior leaders vying for control.  It examines how leaders rise and fall, as their legitimacy and authority increases and diminishes over time, and as their peers engage in overt negotiations and covert political manoeuvring to establish and strengthen their own positions.

While the firm in this study encapsulates a particularly dramatic example of the inherent instability of leadership dynamics, the underlying leadership dynamics potentially apply to any professional service firm.