How Leaders Use Social Symbolic Work to Sustain Counter-normative Practices



Counter-normative approaches to leadership can be useful for addressing novel or complex organizational issues, yet enacting such approaches is challenging because they often meet with resistance, making it hard for leaders to persevere and gain acceptance. Adopting a social symbolic work perspective, we investigate how leaders sustain counter-normative approaches to leadership over time. Our 8-year qualitative inductive study of a new CEO in a conglomerate social enterprise shows how the leader’s discursive, relational, and material work to enact an inclusive and participatory approach to strategy, structure, and decision-making elicits ambivalent emotional reactions amongst senior managers. Subsequent relational work targeted at senior managers helps to transform their ambivalence into acceptance, but it also fuels the leader’s own emotional ambivalence. This in turn motivates the leader to engage in self-oriented discursive, relational and material work to cope with ambivalence. The process model that we induce from these findings theorizes how iterative cycles of discursive, relational, and material work first exacerbate and then ameliorate emotional ambivalence, over time facilitating leaders’ enactment and members’ acceptance of counter-normative leadership practices.

Zoom link: 

Meeting ID: 926 2958 7695