Doing leadership

Doing leadership: A critical research programme on leadership

Both in research and practice, the perspective on leadership as an interaction between individuals in gaining increased attention. This perspective implies that leadership activities are co-constructed by two or more persons together, rather by the formal manager alone. While interactive perspectives has been part of the theoretical debate within leadership research for some time, the basic assumption that the leader is a single person and that leadership is therefore executed by a single person is rarely articulated and challenged. Unitary command has been treated as a ‘natural’ thing and as a moral virtue. Against this, there is an emerging stream of research emphasising leadership as a relational phenomenon, thereby aiming at new post-heroic leadership ideals and the reconstruction of traditional masculinities and femininities in the leadership field.

From a practical perspective, there are several advantages of shared and distributed leadership forms. Advantages are identifies on an individual level (improved work-life balance, better conditions for competence development) as well as on a societal level (increased democracy, minority involvement in managerial work, increased legitimacy for managers and management). Most advantages are, however, to be found on a relational level, i.e. the consequences for organizational interactions. Involving many individuals in leadership work implies an increased use of the total managerial competence, decreased operational vulnerability and risk, and increased representativity. Still, there is a urgent need for knowledge development in this sub-field within leadership research, as the international literature is fragmented and only partly based on in-depth empirical research. Scandinavian research is in the forefront of this development, and should have the potential to provide the international research community with both theoretical and conceptual developments and with empirical examples.

Aims and objectives

The aim of the project is to develop a theoretical perspective where leadership activities are seen in terms of social interaction. This also implies a gender perspective as traditional leadership theories are usually contributing to the reproduction of taken-for-granted masculine norms in work life. By this, the project aims at the needs of contemporary organizations to develop new forms for leadership – such as collaborative, dispersed and shared leadership forms. The intention is that the project shall contribute to a theoretical movement where leadership is increasingly seen as a collective, relational phenomenon.

Impact and results

The general theoretical and practical point of the departure in the project is thus to apply a perspective on the work of leaders implying that leadership is constructed in social interaction. From this, the following basic assumptions are formulated:
– leadership is studied as activities between people, i.e. interactions between formal managers and other involved actors
– human beings are seen as actors constructing these activities based on socially constructed preconceptions
– in the environment of all organizational members, we find preconceptions stating what leadership is and should be, conceptions that are brought into all interactions in the form of leadership ideals and gendered notions on how men and women should behave
– focus is moved from leaders as individuals to leadership as activity processes in organizations
The intended results of the project are thus to develop theoretical models and empirical patterns/categories related to the parts of leadership theory emphasising constructionist and relational perspectives. The project is also in its entirety founded in a gender perspective on leadership, where collective leadership activities are analysed in terms of processes of masculinisation and feminisation.
Apart from the ongoing feedback to the involved organisations, the results from the project will be spread through conferences with practitioners and through a book on development of collective leadership practices.

Research team

Monica Lindgren, Johann Packendorff, Lucia Crevani, KTH-Royal Institute of Technology

Viviane Sergi, HEC Montréal


Packendorff, J., Crevani, L. & Lindgren, M. (2014) ”Project leadership in becoming: A process study of an organizational change project”. Project Management Journal, Vol 45, No 3: pp. 5-20.

Lindgren, M. & Packendorff, J. (2011) ”Issues, responsibilities and identities: A distributed leadership perspective on biotechnology R&D management”. Creativity and Innovation Management, Vol 20, No 3: pp. 157-170.

Lindgren, M., Packendorff, J. & Tham, H. (2011) ”Relational dysfunctionality: Leadership interactions in a Sarbanes-Oxley Act implementation project”. European Journal of International Management, Vol 5, No 1 (forthcoming).

Crevani, L., Lindgren, M. & Packendorff, J. (2010) ”Leadership, not leaders: On the study of leadership as practices and interactions. Scandinavian Journal of Management, Vol 26, No 1: pp. 77-86.

Lindgren, M. & Packendorff, J. (2009) “Project leadership revisited: Towards distributed leadership perspectives in project research”. International Journal of Project Organisation and Management, Vol 1, No 3: pp. 285-308.

Crevani, L., Lindgren, M. & Packendorff, J. (2007) ”Shared leadership: A post-heroic perspective on leadership as a collective construction”. International Journal of Leadership Studies, Vol 3, No 1: pp. 40-67.

Crevani, L., Lindgren, M. & Packendorff, J. (2007) ”Leadership virtues and management knowledge: Questioning the unitary command perspective in leadership research.” In: M-L. Djelic & R. Vranceanu (eds.) Moral Foundations of Management Knowledge: pp. 159-177. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.