In this paper, we present a theory of leadership in self-managing virtual teams. We are particularly interested in self-managing virtual teams because self-management seems to be a common phenomenon in teams that interact primarily through information technology (so-called virtual teams). Building on leadership theory and structuration theory, the theory describes leadership as a process that results in the reinforcement, creation and evolution of ongoing structures and distinguishes between two types of leadership. We identify first-order leadership as leadership that works within and reinforces existing structures to elicit and guide group contributions.
We define second-order leadership as behavior that effects changes in the structure that guides group action. We argue that second-order leadership is enabled by first-order leadership, is therefore action embedded, and is grounded in processes that define the social identity of the team. We propose that effective self-managing virtual teams will exhibit a paradoxical combination of shared, distributed first-order leadership complemented by strong, concentrated, and centralized second-order leadership. We conclude by presenting a set of research questions and suggestions for future research.