Identity undoing and power relations in leadership development

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Leadership development theory and practice is increasingly turning its gaze on identity as a primary focus for development efforts. Most of this literature focuses on how the identities of participants are strengthened, repaired and evolved. This article focuses on identity work practices that are underdeveloped in the literature: the deconstruction, unravelling and letting go that can be experienced when working upon one's self. We group these experiences, among others, under the conceptual term identity undoing' and, based on findings from an 18-month ethnographic study of a leadership development program, we offer five manifestations of how it can be experienced. Through foregrounding the undoing of identity, we are able to look more closely at how power relations shape the leadership development experience. In order to raise questions and propositions for leadership and its development we use a micro-sociological and interactionist approach to explore the interplay between identity and power.


  • Helen Nicholson
  • Brigid Carroll
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Business Administration


  • identity undoing, leadership development, power, social constructionism, technologies of the self
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1225-1248
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Publication categoryResearch