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Assigned versus emergent leadership

Now you have some understanding about the term leadership, let’s see how individuals emerge as leaders.

Assigned or emergent?

Assigned leaders are people who become leaders by being given a formal leadership role in their organisation. In contrast, an emergent leader is someone who becomes a leader due to the way other group members respond to them. When a person is engaged in leadership, the person is a leader, whether leadership was assigned or emerged.

How do leaders emerge?

Personality might play a big role in a person emerging as leader of a group. Hogg’s (2001) Social Identity Theory (SIT) suggests that leaders are those individuals who exhibit the prototype of the social identity of their followers. SIT says that when people believe they belong to a certain social group, they develop strong emotional ties and adopt the features of that group as their self-concept. For example, if you want to work for the equality of women in organisations, you get engaged in activities for the cause, taking part in marches, rallies, and awareness programmes. Through these activities, individuals become emotionally invested in their group membership (Reicher, Haslam, and Hopkins 2005). This theory also leads to an in-group and an out-group developing.

Leadership in the workplace

The interaction of assigned and emergent leadership is quite interesting in the workplace. In a workplace, the real leader might not be the assigned leader. It can very well be that the emergent leader becomes the widely accepted leader after years of communication building trust and commitment (Bass and Bass 2009).


Bass, B.M., and Bass, R. (2009) The Bass Handbook of Leadership: Theory, Research, and Managerial Applications. New York: Free Press

Hogg, M.A. (2001) ‘A Social Identity Theory of Leadership’. Personality and Social Psychology Review 5 (3), 184-200

Reicher, S., Haslam, S.A., and Hopkins, N. (2005) ‘Social Identity and the Dynamics of Leadership: Leaders and Followers as Collaborative Agents in the Transformation of Social Reality’. The Leadership Quarterly 16 (4), 547-568

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This article is from the free online course:

The Evolution of Management and Leadership Theory

Coventry University