Journal Article

Emergent leadership structures in informal groups: A dynamic, cognitively informed network model

Organization Science
Gianluca Carnabuci, Cécile Emery, David Brinberg
Subject(s): Human resources management/organizational behavior, Strategy and general management
Keyword(s): Organizational behavior, general management

This paper advances novel theory and evidence on the emergence of informal leadership networks in groups that feature no formally designated leaders or authority hierarchies. Integrating insights from relational schema and network theory, we develop and empirically test a 3-step process model. The model’s first hypothesis is that people use a “linear-ordering schema” to process information about leadership relations. Taking this hypothesis as a premise, the second hypothesis argues that whenever an individual experiences a particular leadership attribution to be inconsistent with the linear-ordering schema, s/he will tend to reduce the ensuing cognitive inconsistency by modifying that leadership attribution. Finally, the third hypothesis builds on this inconsistency-reduction mechanism to derive implications about a set of network-structural features (asymmetry, a-cyclicity, transitivity, popularity, and inverse-popularity) that are predicted to endogenously emerge as a group’s informal
leadership network evolves. We find broad support for our proposed theoretical model using a multi-method, multi-study approach combining experimental and empirical data. Our study contributes to the organizational literature by illuminating a socio-cognitive dynamics underpinning the evolution of informal leadership structures in groups where formal authority plays a limited role.

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