Informal leaders and their influence on information system organisations : a case of Mexico

  • Edgar Hernandez Rojas

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


The emergence of informal leaders to supplement a lack of effective formal leadership is not uncommon in many workplaces, including information system (IS) organisations. Informal leaders—defined as leaders that do not hold a formal leadership position, authority or hierarchical level granted by the organisation to control the work team—exercise power through authentic leadership and often achieve important goals. The literature to date has examined informal leadership mostly in relation to electronic interactions, characteristics and qualities, levels of responsibility and authority, individual and group performance, social interactions and energetic activation, and largely in the organisational change domain. IS literature has yet to define and explain informal leadership within IS organisations, particularly in developing countries where often complex and unique sociocultural factors shape such leadership. This thesis develops a conceptual framework for identifying and defining informal leaders in IS organisations from a new perspective, considering their characteristics and behaviours, the nature of their leadership, organisational culture, and social context. Two research questions are addressed: 1) what are the characteristics and behaviours that define and identify informal leaders in IS organisations? and 2) what is the nature of the leadership exerted by informal leaders in IS organisations? The conceptual framework is based on the theoretical framework of leadership, with this research incorporating the context, type of organisation and nature of leadership. The findings demonstrate the developed framework’s usefulness for identifying the characteristics and behaviours, nature of leadership (opinion, social and technical) and extent of influence exerted within an organisation. These results can help IS leaders create strategies to develop formal leaders and improve both the work environment and people mobility decisions. The thesis used a qualitative case study to uncover the underlying issues and mechanisms in a real-world setting. Semi-structured interviews were used to gather data from employees of different levels and roles within an IS organisation in Mexico (n=15). Interviews were conducted virtually using the Microsoft Teams program due to restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants answered 20 questions during 20- to 55-minute interviews. Their responses provided data that were extracted and analysed using NVivo software. Transcription and interpretation were conducted by the researcher, who is a Mexican native with a strong understanding of local cultures. This thesis makes several contributions. First, it opens a new avenue of research into an important and underexplored area of leadership within IS organisations. It also elucidates the complex interactions between IS leadership and the sociocultural context of Mexico, a developing country with unique organisational characteristics. This study fills gaps in the literature regarding the nature of the leadership exercised by informal leaders in IS organisations by defining and identifying the characteristics and behaviours they display. Previous studies documented 27 characteristics and 11 behaviours, which have been identified in the present thesis; however, this thesis also identifies three new characteristics (congruence, creativity and resilience) and four new behaviours (‘first to raise their hand to help’, ‘facilitator of communication between users and technologists’, ‘quick response’ and ‘talks openly about project risks’). The findings’ generalisability is limited due to the research case study being undertaken in a single specific sociocultural and organisational context. However, similar results could be obtained by applying the study design in similar contexts. The proposed conceptual framework helps identify informal leaders in IS organisations and is applicable to small- to medium-sized companies in developing countries (based on empirical evidence derived from a case study in Mexico). This research provides a foundation for future investigations into the levels of influence wielded by formal and informal leadership and the effects of that influence within an organisation. Future research could use other approaches, such as sociometric methods, and quantitatively determine the support that an informal leader could obtain from their followers based of the nature of their leadership (opinion, social or technical).
Date of Award2021
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorAhmed Imran (Supervisor) & Luke Nguyen-Hoan (Supervisor)

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