Traditional, hierarchical views of leadership are less and less useful given the complexities of our modern world. Leadership theory must transition to new perspectives that account for the complex adaptive needs of organizations. In this paper, we propose that leadership (as opposed to leaders) can be seen as a complex dynamic process that emerges in the interactive “spaces between” people and ideas. That is, leadership is a dynamic that transcends the capabilities of individuals alone; it is the product of interaction, tension, and exchange rules governing changes in perceptions and understanding. We label this a dynamic of adaptive leadership, and we show how this dynamic provides important insights about the nature of leadership and its outcomes in organizational fields. We define a leadership event as a perceived segment of action whose meaning is created by the interactions of actors involved in producing it, and we present a set of innovative methods for capturing and analyzing these contextually driven processes. We provide theoretical and practical implications of these ideas for organizational behavior and organization and management theory.
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