The identity work of leadership in a professionalised context : the case of nursing

Doctoral thesis English OPEN
Ogilvie, Charlotte
  • Subject: HD28 | RT

Existing research into leadership has relied on individualistic theories which do not provide a satisfactory understanding of the leadership process, particularly in organisations where focus has moved away from vertical, hierarchical leadership, towards more distributed or emergent models (Avery, 2004; Dess & Picken, 2000; Denis, Lamothe & Langley, 2001). It is assumed that individuals will emerge as leaders, and be viewed as effective, when they are rewarded as prototypical, or representative, of the group they are attempting to lead (Hogg, 2001b; Hogg & Terry, 2000), and when they exhibit stereotypical leadership behaviours (Lord, Brown, Harvey & Hall, 2001a; Offermann, Kennedy, & Wirtz, 1994). To date, research has assumed that the two identity concepts are compatible, with little consideration given to groups whose professional identity is dissonant with expected leadership stereotypes. The question therefore arises: how does professional identity influence ability of individuals to construct a leadership identity, when those identities are orthogonal?\ud \ud To address this research gap I focus on leadership in nursing, a profession who have traditionally been defined by their subordination to doctors (Abbott, 1988; Allen, 1997; Campbell-Heider & Pollock, 1987). Combining real-time participant observation of two leadership development programmes with over 60 hours of longitudinal semi-structured interviews from 32 participants, I provide new insights into the chronic identity conflicts encountered by subordinate professionals, and the identity work they use to overcome those conflicts. Drawing on my analysis I develop a typology of four resulting identity constructions, with differing levels of leadership influence and identity conflict. In doing so I illuminate the processes through which subordinate professionals mediate de-coupled identities, challenging the assumption that the existence of a group identity is always beneficial and complementary to leadership behaviours (Hogg, 2001a), and highlight an arena where it can actually be detrimental to the emergence of a leadership identity.
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