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Being more with less: Exploring the flexible political leadership identities of government ministers

Lees-Marshment, Jennifer; Smolović Jones, Owain


Jennifer Lees-Marshment


The paper focuses on the identity work of government ministers, exploring how they experience themselves in relation to contemporary demands and discourses of leadership and democracy. We note a substantial number of studies seeking to develop theories of political and public leadership, particularly in more collaborative directions, but no studies that seek to explore how such demands are experienced by the political leaders who occupy leadership roles. We adopt a poststructuralist approach to identity as a means of empirically exploring how government ministers construct their identities. Drawing on 51 interviews with senior politicians, we propose a model of flexible political leadership identity, which argues that just as public agencies in these austere times are asked to do more with less, so political leaders seem to need to be more but with less perceived discretionary power. We propose four identities that answer quite different leadership demands: ‘the consultor’, ‘the traveller,’ ‘the adjudicator’ and ‘the master.’ These are semi-occupied identities, partial fulfilments of contemporary but contradictory leadership discourses. We conclude the paper with a reflection on how our findings might inform future research and leadership development interventions.


Lees-Marshment, J., & Smolović Jones, O. (2018). Being more with less: Exploring the flexible political leadership identities of government ministers. Leadership, 14(4), 460-482.

Journal Article Type Article
Online Publication Date Jan 12, 2018
Publication Date 2018-08
Deposit Date Jan 7, 2024
Journal Leadership
Print ISSN 1742-7150
Electronic ISSN 1742-7169
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 14
Issue 4
Pages 460-482
Keywords Strategy and Management; Sociology and Political Science
Public URL