The Impact of Simmelian Informal Boundary Spanning Bridges on Leadership Emergence
Organizations have recognized that effective leadership emergence is a source of competitive advantage and have begun investing heavily in leadership development efforts. At the same time, organizations are increasingly employing team-based structures that create demands for adaptive inter-team coordination. Because of these two developments, informal boundary spanning between teams has increasingly become a dynamic, bottom-up activity where individuals who may not have formal authority step up and take on emergent leadership roles based on such activities. In this study, we examine how leadership emergence is affected by two different types of embedded (i.e., Simmelian) boundary spanning ties. We empirically document how both task-oriented and friendship-oriented Simmelian bridges are instrumental in helping individuals establish a base of informational support and interpersonal support, but that these same ties also place constraints on expanding that base. This results in an inverted-U relationship between the number of Simmelian bridges and leadership emergence where the “dark side” (i.e., the apex) of over-embeddedness begins to emerge for friendship-oriented ties much more quickly relative to the apex for task-oriented ties. We discuss the theoretical implications of these results for Role Theory and Simmelian Tie Theory, as well as the practical implications for managers of team-based organizations.