Professor Samia Chreim’s latest research investigates the leadership configurations that are possible following a merger. Her study, which has just been published in the journal Human Relations, adds to our understanding of transition during mergers and acquisitions (M&As) even as it questions “shared leadership.”

The findings make clear that mergers bringing together previously autonomous work teams have a lot of ambiguity and variation in terms of their leadership configurations. When two units are merged, roles and responsibilities may overlap, in effect creating a leadership ‘surplus.’ At the other end of the spectrum there can be ‘leadership deficits’ where individuals choose, for one reason or other, not to take the helm.

“There can be good intentions towards shared leadership, so called because it is distributed among a number of individuals from the acquiring and acquired firms,” explains Chreim. “But M&As tend to open up highly ambiguous leadership spaces, as I discovered in this paper.”

She conducted in-depth interviews with members of an acquiring firm and members of four acquired business units in the engineering sector. The participants had expectations for joint control post-merger.

But these expectations were realized in only one case in which a form of collaborative leadership emerged. In the three other scenarios, the configurations that emerged could be best characterized as: (1) a leadership vacuum; (2) an overcrowded leadership space, and (3) a one-sided arrangement characterized by take-over. 

Shared leadership might not be realized in the post-merger environment. Much will depend on pre-merger discussions, on the ability of personnel from the acquiring and acquired firms to collaborate on setting vision and strategy, on the relationships that develop between the parties, and on the ability of individuals from the acquired firm to exert influence.

The journal Human Relations has published a lengthy discussion of Dr. Chreim’s article by a renowned scholar in this area. Peter Gronn of Cambridge University writes that Dr. Chreim “is to be commended for an invaluable contribution and for advancing knowledge in this field.”