Article | Organization Studies | September 2012

The Unwanted Self: Projective Identification in Leaders' Identity Work

by Gianpiero Petriglieri and Mark Stein


This paper employs a psychodynamic perspective to examine the development and maintenance of a leader's identity, building on the premise that such identity work involves both conscious and unconscious processes. We focus on the latter by suggesting that those in coveted leadership roles may engage in projective identification to shape and sustain an identity befitting those roles. Projective identification is the unconscious projection of unwanted aspects of one's self into others, leading to the bolstering of a conscious self-view concordant with one's role requirements. Recipients of a leader's projections may manage these by projecting them back into the leader or into third parties, which may lead to ongoing conflict and the creation of a toxic culture. We use examples from the Gucci family business to illustrate this process.

Keywords: Leadership; Identity;


Petriglieri, Gianpiero, and Mark Stein. "The Unwanted Self: Projective Identification in Leaders' Identity Work." Organization Studies 33, no. 9 (September 2012): 1217–1235.