Who takes the lead when there is no formal leader?

Lien Desmet

What was my dream when I was little?

Although I had many, my most stubborn childhood dream was to become a pilot. I had only seen pilots when going on family vacations. “Working as a pilot” quickly became associated with holidaying at the beach, eating food all day long,… (which, I am sure, is only part of a pilot’s job description).
The closest I got to achieving this dream was when I got to actually steer (and even touch-and-go) an airplane during a 1 hour intro class on Australia’s Sunshine Coast. I don’t think anyone can top that as far as birthday presents go!

What am I doing when I am not working on my PhD?

When I’m not working, I am pretty much doing exactly what my younger self thought pilots were doing for a living: travelling and eating. In that sense, maybe I have realized my childhood dream after all…?
I love food. I’m always planning my next meal, be it by looking up inspiration from recipes, planting herbs and veggies, making a complete mess of my kitchen or finding nice and cosy restaurants in the city.
Very often, I am also busy planning a little trip or holiday. Whether it’s a weekend getaway at the Ardennes or a big road-trip in New Zealand, going away really replenishes my energy levels, teaches me about myself, about others and about the world and helps me to put everything into perspective. Moreover, having something exciting to look forward to really motivates me to work hard in the time leading up to it. Afterwards, I always return to my research with slightly different eyes.

What is my PhD about?

Organizations are increasingly using self-managing teams to remain competitive in a dynamic business environment. In self-managing teams, no-one is assigned as a leader, but everyone can take on leadership – informal leadership, that is. In my PhD, I want to study the dynamic process of informal leader emergence over time and I analyze which behaviors and contextual factors influence whether or not someone – at a certain point in time – becomes the leader.

Why is this important for practice?

Leadership is a great competitive advantage for companies. Who takes the lead will to a large extent influence a team’s success. This is why it is important to know what happens when we allow leadership to emerge naturally without any formal hierarchy, as is the case in self-managing teams.
On the individual level, my research can also help employees understand and influence the impact they may have on their team through informal leadership.

How do I like to be remembered after my PhD?

As a researcher who has added her own little piece to the complex leadership puzzle, and above all as someone that is down-to-earth, friendly, and not afraid of a challenge.

How do I see my future?

I want to continue challenging myself and developing further, both in terms of my academic career and in my private life.

Want to know more about Lien?

Check out her cv page.

& Rankings

Equis Association of MBAs AACSB Financial Times