For a better self: How Chinese individuals make sense of adversity and develop leader identities
Literature in leadership development suggests that leaders learn to lead largely through experience. The present study extends this stream of research by examining how individuals develop leader identity via adversity-related experience. We present evidence from interviews with one hundred senior executives in China, investigating the adversity experiences in their career life and how those experiences became a catalyst for their leader identity development. We use Hammond, Clapp-Smith, and Palanski’s (2017) four-stage sensemaking model (i.e., noticing, interpreting, authoring, and enacting) to analyze the in-formants’ self-stories which people use as a vital tool to make sense of life events (Weick, 1995). Based on our findings, we propose an adversity-based model of leader identity de-velopment, in which we explain how adversity experience interacts with the self-cultivation tradition in the Chinese context to revise individuals’ self-narratives about adversity, and thereby create leader identity development. Implications of the findings are discussed.