On Friday, I submitted a draft proposal for entry to a professional doctorate programme.
I was told that this is the first step on a year-long journey of crafting the title of the research!
If I do go ahead with it, I would love to use this blog as a way of having a continuing conversation about it with with my social network friends!
My initial offering of a title is: “Positing Leadership as the art of curating communities”.
Broadly speaking, the evolution of leadership theory and research can be categorized as the trait, behaviour and contingency eras.
The trait approach assumes that certain people possess inherent characteristics that make them leaders. Sometimes called the Great Man or Hero theory, the following traits are identified as characteristic of those in leadership roles:
- Capacity – intelligence, alertness, verbal facility, originality and judgement;
- Achievement – scholarship, knowledge, and athletic accomplishment;
- Responsibility – dependability, initiative, persistence, aggressiveness, self-confidence and desire to succeed;
- Participation – activity, sociability, co-operation, adaptability, humour; and,
- Status – socioeconomic position and popularity.
The behavioural approach focuses on what leaders do, ie, their observable behaviour or competencies, and how they carry out the leadership role.
The contingency approach, sometimes referred to as situational theory is based on the assumption that leadership is a function of the interaction between the personality of the leaders and followers and the social situation and context they find themselves in. Such leadership theorists believe that the situation determines the personal traits and competencies required in a leader.
These are not scratching where I’m itching!
For me, none of these approaches are sufficiently reflexive about the social world being created as a result of the exercise of leadership. This is important because leadership is synonymous with the exercise of power over people (followers).
Imbedded in my title is a vision of what a life-giving leadership should be. I’m excited to think that a doctoral programme will give me an opportunity to explore and develop this vision. (But I’m worried about whether I can do this, while holding down a very busy international job!)
The title also reflects my discomfort at the extent to which commercial discourse and globalisation have colonised and shaped our understanding and practice of leadership today. I believe that an one outcome of this transactional worldview is the commoditisation of human beings, communities and consequently our very ideas of what counts as good-bad human interaction and relationships. Newer theories about transformational leadership does quite cut it for me either. This is because it is possible to move from old to new ways of doing things but still be locked into a particular world view. In fact, part of modernist thinking is the notion of (linear) progress.
For me, traditional theories of leadership are unhelpful because they are almost exclusively based on scientific ways of understanding the organisations based on the enlightenment notion that ‘truth’ can be discovered through logical rationalism and applying the right scientific methodology.
Instead, I would rather explore a social constructionist approach to leadership because it invites us to look at this important topic through the lens of social processes using an alternative concept of ‘communal rationality’. Some are calling this ‘relational practice’ – ie the art of seeing and co-creating social worlds through relational negotiation, and relational responsibility.
Bedfordshire University is one of the few tertiary institutions that is open to such a postmodern approach. If I go ahead I will have an opportunity to co-create a thesis on leadership, based, not on a positivist paradigm of scientific-academic rigour but instead using human processes such as ‘storying’, ‘narrative inquiry’, ‘conversational sense-making’ to co-create a better social world.
Please feel free to comment below. I would love to hear what you think!