Don’t do things better, do better things…

I’ve been glued to the recent BBC documentary about the Vietnam war. It’s a compelling but utterly depressing watch. As the credits rolled at the end of the last episode, I found myself asking whether the world has learnt from this tragic, but on hindsight, avoidable human catastrophe? In that this experience has not prevented America from going to war again, the answer is no. What they have done, however, is to get better at warfare. Exponential improvements in war tech and greater investment in armaments have seen to that.

When discussing my doctoral research, people often ask, why study ‘leadership’, especially when there are a myriad of leadership theories and models already out there? Too many to mention, hence the question.

Well, I’m not interested in learning about leadership per se. What I am curious about is, what our notions of leadership, does. What kind of world do they create?

In 2008, Pearce (Littlejohn and McNamee, 2013) made the distinction between research that helps us do the same things better, and research that helps us do better things. He elaborates this by citing the example of wars… “rather than learning how to fight wars in new places such as outer space, a better thing to do might be to learn how to make peace so that we don’t need new weapons when we move into out space”.

I’d like to think that this applies to my research on leadership. It is not about perpetuating current leadership discourse by doing it better, but rather to suggest doing something better by altogether re-framing leadership.

Reference:

Littlejohn, S. W. & Mcnamee, S. (2013). The Coordinated Management of Meaning: A Festschrift in Honor of W. Barnett Pearce, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.

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