The paper focuses on the identity work of government ministers, exploring how they experience themselves in relation to contemporary demands and discourses of leadership and democracy. We note a substantial number of studies seeking to develop theories of political and public leadership, particularly in more collaborative directions, but no studies that seek to explore how such demands are experienced by the political leaders who occupy leadership roles. We adopt a poststructuralist approach to identity as a means of empirically exploring how government ministers construct their identities. Drawing on 51 interviews with senior politicians, we propose a model of flexible political leadership identity, which argues that just as public agencies in these austere times are asked to do more with less, so political leaders seem to need to be more but with less perceived discretionary power. We propose four identities that answer quite different leadership demands: ‘the consultor’, ‘the traveller,’ ‘the adjudicator’ and ‘the master.’ These are semi-occupied identities, partial fulfilments of contemporary but contradictory leadership discourses. We conclude the paper with a reflection on how our findings might inform future research and leadership development interventions.

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