Leading through Others: Social Identity Theory in the Organizational Setting

By Cummins, Paul G.; O'Boyle, Ian | Organization Development Journal, Fall 2014 | Go to article overview

Leading through Others: Social Identity Theory in the Organizational Setting


Cummins, Paul G., O'Boyle, Ian, Organization Development Journal


Abstract

In this paper, the evolution of social identity theory is discussed followed by an examination of its relevance within the organizational setting through the presentation of the Social Identity Model of Organizational Leadership (SIMOL) and an examination of the key factors that impinge upon its success. Social identity theory continues to see growth in attention by scholars. This paper concludes with some suggested directions that future research can focus on.

Leading Through Others: Social Identity Theory in the Organizational Setting

"Leadership should be less about motivating people to do things; it should be about inspiring others to want to do things" (Haslam, Reicher & Platow, 2011).

Leadership is about shaping beliefs, desires, and priorities to ultimately achieve influence instead of securing compliance and is always involved in harnessing the energies and passions of others. According to Haslam et al. (2011) securing compliance is linked with management, decisionmaking, and authority and while all of these factors are implicated in the leadership process, they are not consistently linked with winning followers' hearts and minds whereas good leadership is. In the past, and even in the present, leadership is still often manifested through force and power, where active influence is motivated through fear and influence can be exercised through means of motivational incentives and rewards; a leadership technique particularly apparent in the principal-agent concept used foundationally in classic economic theory (Hogg, van Knippenberg, & Rast, 2012; van Knippenberg, 2011).

Haslam et al. (2011) view both of the above leadership practices as failures of leadership based on their belief that while they can both be used to affect the behavior of others, they lack ownership for their behavior as a result and thus will internally reject such influence as it will be viewed as externally imposed. "If you threaten dire punishment for disobedience and then instruct others to march off towards a particular destination, they will probably do so and equally if you offer them great inducements for obedience, they will probably do the same" (Haslam et al, 2011, preface). Nevertheless, in neither case is it likely that they will be truly influenced in the sense that they come to see the mission as their own, and in fact, the opposite is true in that the mission will be internally rejected as it is externally imposed. From an organizational perspective, once the forceful fear inducing influence and/or the 'stick and carrot' incentive influence stops or wears thin, employees and followers in general may rebel in an opposite direction to the organization in order to assert their independence (Hogg et al, 2012; van Knippenberg, 2011). To protect against this from happening while maintaining the traditional forms of organizational influence according to classic leadership and economic theory, the organization must then expend considerable resources not only in order to secure compliance, but, over time, to then maintain that compliance (Haslam, et al., 2011).

There is an easier route that appears to make more sense, and that is to attempt to inspire someone to want to travel in a certain direction so that they will continue to act even in the absence of the leader. Thus if a leader is seen, heard, and noticed as someone who can and will articulate what others want to do, then each influential action increases a leader's credibility and ensures that future influence and persuasion is both easier and more probable to achieve (Hogg, 2001; Hogg & Tindale, 2001). According to Haslam et al. (2011), instead of being self-depleting, true leadership is self-regenerating and it is this remarkable, almost alchemic-quality that makes the topic of leadership so fascinating and so important.

A Social Identity Leadership Perspective

Leadership is a group process (Chemers, 2001). In recent years the social identity perspective has provided a social cognitive framework for social psychology to re-examine leadership as that group process (e. …

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