From one leader to many leaders: Do we need to rethink our leadership theories?

Zoom Research Seminar / 5th Floor EE Lecture 1

Past event — 9 November 2023

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Prof. Dr. Steffen R. Giessner

Professor of Organizational Behaviour and Change

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University

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Recent changes in work have resulted in organizational structures without leaders (e.g., Holacracy) or treating the leader position as one of many functions (e.g., Agile). A central implication of this is that teams require more than one leader. While this might be familiar (e.g., matrix organizations), it raises the question of how this matters for our theorizing about leadership. Researchers have recognized this phenomenon as leadership in the plural (Denis, Langley, & Sergi, 2012). In this talk, I will provide some examples of how thinking about leadership in the plural raises new questions for our theorizing on leadership in general. First, starting with a classic example of matrix organizations in which managers are confronted with two leaders, I present research showing that besides good relationships between leader and follower, the perceived relationship between the leaders matters. Second, I reflect on a case study with national sports teams.  Given that there are many potential leaders in such a team, we find that those teams often use more than one leader. Our qualitative study shows that specific context factors (e.g., the complexity of the context) and processes (i.e., emergence and maintenance) are important factors in making leadership in the plural a viable, effective option. Finally, if one wants to have many leaders, a requirement is that we need individuals who are willing to claim the lead but also to grant the lead to others. I present data from a new scale measuring those aspects and preliminary results on the outcomes of granting and claiming the information.


Steffen R. Giessner is Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Change at the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM). He holds an MSc in Psychology from the University of Kent at Canterbury, UK, and a PhD in Psychology from the Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena, Germany. His research is located at the intersection of organizational psychology and management. His primary research topics are employee support during organizational merger, follower’s perceptions of leadership, antecedents of leader behavior, and non-verbal communication of power. He has authored and co-authored papers in the areas of organizational behavior, management, and psychology. His research received media coverage in outlets like the New York Times, Financial Times, The Guardian, Harvard Business Review, Harvard Business Manager and Wall Street Journal. His most recent book on Leading with Presence addresses how one can develop the non-verbal aspect of leadership impact.


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Bärbel Wegener

Assistant to Resident Faculty