Leader Emergence: The Development of a Theoretical Framework

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Leadership and Organization Development Journal




Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to develop a theoretical framework to explain how leaders emerge in teams that lack a hierarchical structure. This framework emphasizes the perceptual processes through which team members determine whether or not an individual fits with the task, the group, and the situational context.

Design/methodology/approach – This paper builds on prior leadership research to develop a theoretical framework of emergent leadership, a testable model, and research propositions.

Findings – The authors suggest that team members’ perceptions of leadership fit depend on the potential leader's domain competence, fluid intelligence, willingness to serve, credibility, and goal attainment. A conceptual framework is developed to suggest these attributes combine to create perceptions of leadership fit that must correspond to the degree of stress in the situational context, which varies according to task criticality and time compression. The framework suggests that an individual perceived by team members to exhibit characteristics that fit with the situation will likely emerge as the leader.

Research limitations/implications – This paper focuses on emergent leadership, but does not address which path to leadership may be best. Future research may also address group dynamics (i.e. cohesion or group potency) and the implications for leader emergence.

Originality/value – This research contributes to the discipline by suggesting a potential path of leader emergence in multiple contexts of situational stress and leader behaviors.