Leadership as institutional work: A bridge to the other side

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The great deed of the supreme hero is to come to the knowledge of this unity in multiplicity and then to make it known. – Joseph Campbell, <italic>The Hero with a Thousand Faces</italic> The most important thing is integrity. Once you figure out how to fake that you've got it made. – Variously attributed Current interest in the phenomenon of institutional work was seemingly foreshadowed by Selznick (1957) in his <italic>Leadership in Administration</italic>. Therein, he developed a powerful theory of the institution which granted a central role to a particular type of institutional worker: the leader or “statesman.” He saw leaders as playing an essential part in institutionalization processes, and focused in particular on the ways in which they help institutions develop, adapt, and endure. Selznick's concept of institutional leadership would thus appear to link quite well with the more contemporary concept of institutional work, which Lawrence and Suddaby (2006: 215) have defined as “purposive action of individuals and organizations aimed at creating, maintaining and disrupting institutions.” However, this linkage remains a latent and largely undeveloped one. Lawrence and Suddaby's (2006) exhaustive review of the burgeoning literature on institutional work cited no studies of institutional leadership and made no explicit reference to Selznick's concept or his 1957 book. While this omission may reflect an oversight on those authors' part, it also says something about the current state of the field. Contemporary institutionalists have become increasingly interested in agency, practice, power, entrepreneurship, and like issues.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationInstitutional Work
Subtitle of host publicationActors and Agency in Institutional Studies of Organizations
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages33
ISBN (Electronic)9780511596605
ISBN (Print)9780521518550
StatePublished - Jan 1 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Business, Management and Accounting


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