Thinking about leadership

The universe clearly heard me yesterday regarding my dedication to write 500+ words.  Last night I got to bed at 1am after an outing went quite a bit longer than expected, and before my 8am meeting I slipped (which you will find I do quite a lot) while chasing a runaway dog and smashed my head into a metal fence.  It’s like “you think you can write? Well try writing after THIS.” (I surprisingly feel OK, but my 6 hour work target is looking shaky.)

My literature review can be divided evenly into two sections:

  • What is leadership?
  • How do we develop leaders?

Neither of those sections are particularly small from a literature perspective, though the first is probably more daunting that the second.

In each case there is a sub question?

  • What is leadership in the creative industries?
  • How have we developed leaders in the creative industries?

In both cases there may be a hypothesis that a) leadership IS different in the creative industries (as compared to other industries) and that b) leaders have developed differently.  There’s lot of other questions there too but I will come to those in later posts.

And then there is the question of what do I mean by the ‘creative industries’?  Many of the theses I have read focuses on the arts more specifically, than the broader creative industries.  Surely that would be easier. But my gut feeling is I want this to be positioned within the larger economic paradigm.

I like this diagram, as outlined by David Throsby, font of all economic knowledge of the creative industries (which I sourced from

Arts economy

I may be making a rod for my own back, but examining the four circles seems like the work will be more useable? When you realise only three people read your thesis this seem to be redundant, but anyhow.

Putting that aside for the time being, I want to think though the concepts of leadership and the areas I want to cover.

Last year I wrote 10,000 words on leadership theories when I was starting with an MPhil.  No one has read them, including me. They may not be good, but they might be useful.  The structure is:

What is leadership?

The section starts with a short discussion about why leadership is important to study. There are over 7,000 texts, in one author’s preliminary search, written on leadership so clearly some people, albeit academics and popular writers who want to sell books, see it as important.  There are studies on how leadership impacts organisations, or doesn’t impact organisations, and plenty of research on how leadership affects individuals and society.  This is not necessarily all from a positive perspective as there are plenty of negative connotations associated with the concept.

Leadership is also important from a creative industries perspective, and the reasons are twofold.  Firstly, if the creative industries are to have a continued impact on the economy (and it is estimated that more people work in these industries than in agriculture and mining) then good leadership may (note the may) contribute to success.  Secondly, business leaders have been looking toward the creative industries for a couple of decades, and even more so post GFC, to address their own gaps in leadership capacity.  The metaphor of artist as business leader is alive and well – orchestra conductors, theatre directors and visual artists are all seen as an analogy for the successful organisational leader.

But little has been done to look at creative leaders themselves, though this is changing.  Arts management, or arts administration (a phrase I loathe) is a growing academic discipline but arts leadership is still relatively new.  I have my thoughts on why that is but I shall save that for another day.  In addition to this, even less research has been done on how creatives developed their leadership capability, hence my interest. There’s a gap that can be filled here that is useful from an academic perspective but also from a practical disciplinary perspective.  If we gain perspective on how to develop leaders, maybe we can put this into practice. As someone who has worked in the industry, with some terrible experiences, I can see a need for this.

Now it is time to get into the theories, which was the point of this post before I rambled.   This is the information I’m trying to sort out in my head.

My initial writing broke leadership theory down into:

  • Trait and Behavioural
  • Contingency and Situational
  • Change Theory
  • Transactional, Transformational and Charismatic.

Then a second section on leadership theories with a particular creative industries alignment:

  • Leadership outside the organisational context (particularly important for me)
  • Not for profit leadership
  • Social Movement leadership
  • Leadership and Creativity (or leading for creativity) and one of innovation (to combine I think)
  • Co or dual leadership
  • Orchestra conductors (which seemed to require a section on their own)
  • Shared or self leadership

With some conclusions drawn at the end.

Reflecting on this I am not horrified, but I feel that a) I haven’t gone into the depths I need in each of these sections, b) there are gaps that I can see from more reading and that my supervisors are pointing out from a theory perspective and c) I need to organise the categories in a more cohesive and relevant way.

Importantly, I need to keep in my mind  am not writing and exhaustive history of all leadership theory. This is a salient detail I only realised while reading Jo Caust’s thesis on leadership in Adelaide arts organisations (which is excellent.) I need to position the theories I review in the context that they are relevant to the discussion on the creative industries I am having.  Why didn’t I think this months ago?

So where I am I now? I have all the information outlined above, plus a mind map of questions I have been writing to myself over the past month.

What is leadership (in the arts)-


Yes it is hard to read.  Even harder to untangle mentally.

I want to find the best structure for the section on leadership, and then ensure that all the questions I’m thinking about are covered within the defined categories.  And then map all my literature that I’m reading to the relevant areas.  I know HOW to do this, thanks to a great UTS workshop, but I haven’t even contemplating STARTING this.

So the two ways of categorising I’m thinking about are:

Idea one

  • Functional
  • Relationship
  • Critical

With Critical being the new sections of more recent work.  I’m not 100% sure everything fits neatly though.

Idea two

This is the structure used by Keith Grint in his cute little book I read while walking my dog, Leadership: A Very Short Introduction

  • Leadership as position
  • Leadership as a person
  • Leadership as a result
  • Leadership as a process

These category definitions may align better to my mind map, but not sure if I can slot all the theories in nicely.

I’ll wrap up here.  As maybe I’m even avoiding reading by writing today (a miracle.)



2 thoughts on “Thinking about leadership

  1. Pingback: A bit about process | Surry Hills PhD

  2. Pingback: I love it when a plan comes together | Surry Hills PhD

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