Emergent Leadership Structures in Informal Groups: A Dynamic, Cognitively Informed Network Model
Abstract: 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. We integrate insights from relational schema and network theory to develop and empirically test a three-step process model. The model’s first hypothesis is that people use a “linear ordering schema” to process information about leadership relations. The second hypothesis argues that when an individual experiences a particular leadership attribution to be inconsistent with the linear ordering schema, that individual 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, acyclicity, transitivity, popularity, and inverse popularity) that are predicted to emerge endogenously 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 observational 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."