Organization studies scholars have examined leadership development processes on only a handful of occasions. This paper argues that an organizational lens, rather than individualized and decontextualized research, can significantly advance this under-theorized field. A critical organizational framing, in particular, assists not only in problematizing the ‘leader’ identities produced within contemporary leadership development programmes (LDPs), but also in surfacing the ways in which power, context and identity can be inextricably linked within specific practices. The article contributes to critical leadership and organization studies in three main ways. First, it theorizes through a critical identity lens the regulatory practices that constitute an idealized leader self in two separate global LDPs, and which create tensions and paradoxes rarely examined in studies of LDPs and organizations more generally. Second, it examines participants’ considerable resistance to the prevailing models of global leader prescribed in the two programmes. Third, our dual case analysis highlights the role of discursive context, enabling us to compare two particular strategies of leadership development through identity regulation: ‘investiture’ and ‘divestiture’. The paper concludes by discussing the implications of this
analysis for rethinking theory and practice, and suggests future research directions for critical organization studies of leadership and LDPs.