Leader Emergence in Self-Managed Teams as Explained by Surface- and Deep-Level Leader Traits
Lacerenza, Christina Noelle
Doctor of Philosophy
Leadership structures are flattening across organizations and teams, and according to Deloitte, the number one workforce trend of 2016 includes a shift from using traditional teams (whereby leadership and team member roles are clearly defined upon team inception) to self-managed teams (Kaplan et al., 2016). In comparison to traditional teams, self-managed teams do not have a designated leader upon team inception; instead, leaders come to fruition organically through a process deemed leader emergence (Humphrey, Hollenbeck, Meyer, & Ilgen, 2007). This process represents one that is bottom-up (i.e., leader(s) emerge from the team), rather than top-down, and is inherently ill-defined and flat. Accordingly, leadership is often dynamic and distributed on self-managed teams (Denis, Langley, & Sergi, 2012). Furthermore, this leadership structure is often referred to as shared leadership or leadership in the plural (Pearce & Conger, 2003; Denis et al., 2012). When effective, this type of leadership lends itself to increases among a host of desired team outcomes, including innovation, creativity, and performance (e.g., D’Innocenzo, Mathieu, & Kukenberger, 2016; DeSouza & Klein, 1995; Hoch, 2013). Because the underpinnings of leadership within self-managed teams differs from that of traditional hierarchical leadership, it is necessary to conduct empirical research within this domain to fully understand its underlying processes. It is possible that inputs, processes, and outcomes that makeup traditional leadership structures do not operate in a similar manner for self-managed teams. Moreover, the heightened use of self-managed teams bolsters this need for empirical research within this domain. Researchers have begun to scratch the surface regarding predictors of emergent leadership within self-managed teams (e.g., Ensari, Riggio, Christian, & Carslaw, 2011); however, a large portion of research conducted is cross-sectional using samples that might not generalize (e.g., teams working together for a few hours). Furthermore, researchers have recently called for more longitudinal research on self-managed teams (e.g., Kalish & Luria, 2016). In response, the current study investigates the process of leader emergence within self-managed, engineering product-development teams over the course of 16 weeks. Drawing from implicit leadership theory (Lord & Hall, 2003; Shondrick & Lord, 2010), social role theory (Berdhal, 1996), diversity theory (Harrison, Price, & Bell, 1998; Harrison, Price, Gavin, & Florey, 2002) and relevant empirical research on leader emergence and individual differences (e.g., Barrick, Patton, & Haugland, 2000; Bergman et al., 2014; Deuling et al., 2011; Kalish & Luria, 2016), I argue that the criteria utilized to identify leader emergence changes throughout a team’s lifecycle. In particular, during initial stages, surface-level leader traits predict leader emergence, but over time this effect diminishes and deep-level leader traits are leveraged. Results from two samples provide preliminary evidence of this notion. Assertiveness, a surface-level leader trait, predicted initial leader emergence; however, the variance explained was shared with grit-perseverance, a deep-level leader trait. In contrast, lagged leader emergence was only predicted by grit-perseverance. Supplemental analyses indicated that grit-perseverance predicted leader emergence and effectiveness above and beyond conscientiousness, indicating that the explanatory power of this deep-level leader trait may be more than originally anticipated.
Grit; leadership; teams