Affiliated Organization

Case Western Reserve University, USA


We conducted an exploratory study to examine the unique electronic mail usage patterns exhibited by the emergent leaders in seven teams of senior executives of a federal government agency. The team members worked together over ten weeks via electronic mail in the context of an executive development program. The goal of the analysis was to identify the distinct patterns of communication behaviors among emergent leaders in distributed teams that differentiate them from other team members. To this end, we conducted a content analysis of 327 electronic mail messages that were sent to the list-serve, using a coding scheme developed based on the existing leadership and small group literature. We examined the communication frequency, the message type (task-oriented, people-oriented, and technology-oriented), and the message length. Our results provide four main observations regarding emergent leadership in distributed teams: (1) overall, the emergent leaders sent more messages than other members did; (2) the emergent leaders sent more task-related messages than other members did; (3) the emergent leaders sent longer messages than other members did; and (4) demographic variables such as age, job experience, and experience at the current position did not affect emergent leadership.