Leader Identity on the Fly: Intra-personal Leader Identity Dynamics in Response to Strong Events

Karolina Nieberle, Bryan Acton, Susanne Braun, Robert Lord, Angelique Yue Fu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent theorizing challenges the notion that leadership, and especially leader identities, is static. Yet, we know little about the dynamics that characterize how leader identities change within individuals across short periods of time. The current work integrates theorizing on temporal dynamics in leadership research with event systems theory to describe and predict day-to-day shifts (i.e., unidirectional, sudden changes) and dynamic ebb and flow patterns (i.e., multidirectional, potentially nonlinear changes over multiple days) of individuals’ leader identities. Specifically, we argue that the experience of strong (i.e., novel, disruptive, extraordinary) daily events facilitates positive leader identity shifts, and that over time, the resulting identity ebb and flows are more pronounced in unfamiliar compared to familiar contexts. We collected experience sampling data from 69 young adults at a university in the UK across seven-day periods at three different time points during the academic year (1159 data points). Using dynamical systems modeling, we analyze the velocity (i.e., rate of change) and the acceleration (i.e., change in velocity) parameters of individuals’ leader identity dynamics. We find that (a) on a daily level, strong events prompt positive shifts in leader identity, and that (b) over time, chains of stronger and weaker events provoke similar patterns of leader identity ebb and flows. However, these relationships are not stronger in unfamiliar compared to familiar contexts. Our research informs the theoretical understanding of events and short-term leader identity dynamics. We discuss implications for theory and research, in particular how events can trigger leader identity formation.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Business & Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 5 Sept 2023


  • Dynamical systems modeling
  • Ebb and flow
  • Events
  • Leader identity
  • Young adults


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