Mitigating anxiety: the role of strategic leadership groups during radical organizational change.

Michael Jarrett*, Russ Vince

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
1 Downloads (Pure)


This paper examines the role of strategic leadership groups in radical organizational change. Previous research has focused on how ‘heroic’ individual leaders guide change. In contrast, we argue that strategic leadership groups are indispensable to understanding and supporting radical organizational change. Building on a longitudinal study in a global European company, our research identifies four phases of ‘negotiated order’ that shape group and organisational responses to change. Our findings reveal that strategic leadership groups help with the management of emotions, and with understanding the shifting authority relations that inevitably arise during periods of change. Drawing upon the psychoanalytic concept of ‘projective identification’, we develop a theoretical framework for understanding the tensions of change. The model shows how emotional coalitions that develop in strategic leadership groups afford a source of political and psychological containment against the anxieties of radical organisational change. These formations offer transitional spaces for change, providing opportunities for progress. The advantage of this new perspective on radical change is that it helps to move the organization beyond periods of ambivalence and conflict, with positive implications for leadership practice.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHuman Relations
VolumeOnline First
Early online date30 Apr 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 30 Apr 2023


  • Negotiated order
  • Projective identification
  • Radical organisational change
  • Social defences
  • Strategic leadership groups
  • Systems psychodynamics
  • Top management teams


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