Fads and fashions

I’ve pretty much completed my initial reading on leadership theory. I’ve got about 200 references across the spectrum from positivist theory (behavioural, charismatic, trait) through to critical leadership theory (feminist, post-heroic, distributed) and a special section of leadership relevant to the creative industries (not for profit, creativity in leadership, leader as metaphor.)  So If you want a nutshell history of leadership in the twentieth and twenty-first century I am your go to person.

If the aim of the literature review is to demonstrate that your are across the relevant theory, I feel that I am well on the way to achieving that (that said I have another half to research: leadership development techniques.)  Reading like I have for the past 8 months (yes it has been that long, but only concentrated for the past 3) has made me aware that in academic research there are fads and fashions just as there are in any other industry.  Someone comes up with an interesting idea, it is grasped by others and run with, then a whole other group shoots it down.  Then the next thing comes along.

You could argue that the whole evolution of theory is like that – trait theory was popular until behavioural came along, until that was replaced by contingency etc.  Everyone in leadership and management is looking for the silver bullet that will make organisations successful, and the prize for success would be wealth and fame.  Make others rich and you will be too.

When I was working in leadership development it was all about change.  Change was the word.  The whole idea of managing a successful organisation of the time (1990s – 2000s) was making it adaptable to change. The pace of change was accelerating, technology advancing and leaders needed to be able to a) cope with this change but also b) instigate and successfully manage change within their organisation.

The guru of change leadership was John P. Kotter from Harvard Business School.  I can’t remember how, but I managed to go to a one day event of his in Melbourne and it resonated for years with me.  Firstly he was a brilliant story-teller himself, and he spoke about the leaders’ capacity to control narrative to instigate change. He spun this long tale about the night Martin Luther King Jr was shot and the subsequent rioting that occurred over the USA.  He claimed that the city where Bobby Kennedy was campaigning for President was the only one spared,  due to his capacity to rally people behind him in difficult circumstances.  No idea if it was true, but it was beautifully done.

What’s interesting looking back at this, and now rereading some of the change theory written by Kotter and others, is not only the insistence that change is THE most important element in business (Kotter argues that all leadership can be defined as is the ability to manage change, as opposed to management which is the ability to manage complexity) but the heroic nature of the leadership discussed.  Even the Kennedy example above – it was about one single man (usually a man or still a masculine defined leader) using his skills and abilities to impact a city in a positive way.  This pretty much sums up the 3,000 words I hope to write in the next week.

But something happened in the last 10 years.  Suddenly the ‘why’ has shifted.  Change isn’t seen as the driving force that it was, though it is still mentioned, along with the social and political events like 9/11 and the GFC which have helped lead a critical reassessment of leadership.  Now the organisational holy grail is another c-word: creativity.

If I look at my spreadsheet listing references and page numbers, by far the most populated column is that of creativity.  It isn’t just because of my thesis topic (creative industries, yes I know) it is because so many leadership theories now suggest that enhancing or realising creative potential is now the way to achieve lasting organisational success.  This is one reason why the arts and creative sector is seen to be a new avenue for leadership research – they must be ‘good’ at creativity, right?

Personally I can attest to experiencing this in my last corporate role (which I left in 2010), enhancing creative potential in leaders was a main focus on development, and this was in a financial services company.  Gone where the 2-hour sessions on change management, and replaced by drumming workshops and painting classes (not joking.)

I wonder what the next fad will be?

I may not post for the next few days, with my goal to write 1,000 words per day of my actual literature review. So I hope to be back with 10,000 words under my belt before I shift focus in May to leadership development.

Authentic Leadership

Gardner, W.L., Avolio, B.J., Luthans, F., May, D.R. & Walumbwa, F. 2005, ‘“Can you see the real me?” A self-based model of authentic leader and follower development’, The Leadership Quarterly, vol. 16, no. 3, pp. 343-72.

I’ve been around the block a few times. I’ve worked in corporate and arts environments and had more jobs than I can count on one hand.  I’ve been a leader and been led by many others, so I feel I’ve had exposure to the good, bad and the ugly of leadership in practice.

One of the most interesting periods in my life was the eight or so years I worked for a major bank in Melbourne.  It was a challenging time to work for a bank, the height of ‘bank-bashing’ (which has never really gone away) where I used to make up a different job when I caught a taxi as I didn’t want to face a barrage of abuse.  During my time with this organisation a new CEO was appointed, and an ambitious exercise in ‘cultural change’ was undertaken.  The basis of this program was aligning organisational core values with people’s values (be it staff, customers or community.)

The program was driven by the CEO, had a lot of money behind it, and included training, communications and all the bells and whistles associated with a major program.  Key staff were selected to work within the division that oversaw the program, a highly prized posting as they not only were paid well but they had ‘funky’ offices and we clearly the cool people to sit with in the corporate playground.

To be firmly initiated into the program staff went on training courses, some for 3-days, some for 1 and others for the afternoon. I had a HR role at the time that saw me exposed to key organisational talent and incoming graduates, so I was selected as one of the first to go on the three-day residential program.  It was seen as quite an honour.

The three days focussed on authenticity, on bringing ‘your whole self to work.’ The organisation wanted to remove the professional facade that people felt they needed to have.  They wanted organisational values to align to personal values, and for people to feel pride in where they worked.  The program was quite confronting personally. Techniques were used to get people to open up in ways that weren’t usually seen on leadership courses.  This resulted in some pretty big occurrences; people leaving marriages or coming out at work. It was said that many would choose to leave the organisation after this experience, because they felt that there wasn’t a values alignment.

For me it started a journey of personal reflection that in some ways I am still on today, but at the same time it made me quite uncomfortable.  It didn’t take much research to see the training and language aligned to programs like “Landmark” and touched on the techniques used in cults.  We joked it was a cult with only half smiles.

This weekend I focused on reading about authentic leadership, starting with the article listed above.  And while this was published in 2005, and my experiences were 2001-2004, I felt shivers of recognition.  Noted the term  authentic leadership was first discussed by Bass around 1995. There is no doubt that the foundations in which these programs were built on were the theories of authentic leadership and emotional intelligence.  And even reading them 10 years later makes me question the techniques and think about personal experience.

According to Gardner et al authentic leadership is a process whereby leaders and followers experience growth by becoming more authentic. With authenticity defined as: “owning one’s personal experiences, be they thoughts, emotions, needs, wants, preferences, or beliefs, processes captured by the injunction to know oneself.”

An authentic leader achieves authenticity through self-awareness, self-acceptance and actions and relationships.  Authentic relationships are describes as those with transparency, openness, trust, guidance toward worthy objectives and an emphasis on follower development. By being true to one’s core beliefs and values and exhibiting authentic behaviour, the leader positively fosters the development of associates until they become leaders themselves.

(Anyone who went through the experiences I did will recognise the language.)

From an organisation perspective, it is argues that through improved self-awareness and follower development there will be a stronger identification with, and achievement of, organisational goals.  Authentic leadership is an answer to the dark side of charismatic leadership, or so it is claimed.  A truly authentic leader is supposed to be highly moral, they expand the domain of effective freedom and empower others. Inauthentic leaders have unchecked self-interest and encourage others to treat followers as a means to an end.

Ford, J. & Harding, N. 2011, ‘The impossibility of the ‘true self’ of authentic leadership’, Leadership, vol. 7, no. 4, pp. 463-79.

In this critical article Ford and Harding unravel the positivist language and assumptions of authentic leadership development.  They argue that within the core philosophy of the model lies the reasons for its defeat: namely that to be seen as authentic leaders (and by extension followers) subscribe to the core values of the group (or in the organisation) and therefore authenticity in this case means “the inability to distinguish between the self and the organisation.” (468)  How then can a person be self-aware and fully demonstrate their true nature and be aligned to the organisation’s values? Such a similarity couldn’t exit.

If I reflect back the experience I had this was indeed the case. Authentic leadership was defined as ‘bringing one’s whole self to work’ yet at the same time manifesting the organisation values, which were displayed on wallet sides plastic cards people were encouraged to keep with them, and refer to, when decision making.  See it WAS a cult.

Ford and Harding continue to say that the whole authentic leadership approach can be seen as a form of organisational control of staff:

Thus our first charge against this model is that an approach which claims the high ground of morals it itself immoral, for it is designed to bend people further to the organisational grindstone without their knowing they are so bent. (470)

There’s further elaboration of the psychoanalytic underpinnings of identity and self in these circumstances, to explain why authentic leadership is destined to fail, but also why it’s potentially quite an insidious tool of oppression. Now I may have been reading a bit too much Foucault these days, but it all comes across as quite sinister.

Having lived through this type of leadership training it now makes me very aware of why I felt so uncomfortable with it at the time.

Individual to collective

Hi – I’m still here.  I have mapped all my existing reading to a matrix and am very happy with my results.  This next week is about filling gaps in my knowledge before I spend the last two weeks of April writing/re-writing my section on leadership theory.

I haven’t been as diligent as I should have been this week, however, so I am doing an extra 2-3 hours per day on the weekend to put my head back in the game.

Crevani, L., Lindgren, M. & Packendorff, J. 2007, ‘Shared leadership: a post-heroic perspective on leadership as a collective construction’, International Journal of Leadership Studies, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 40-67.

This article is a good example of some of the surprising pieces I come across. I’d had it saved in endnote for a while, but now I know what I’ve read and haven’t (thanks to my trusty matrix) I clicked on the first one alphabetically and hit a jackpot of useful material.

These authors firstly provide a really strong overview of leadership theory from the 19th century to today.  They divide it int four sections: trait, style, contingency and new.  Trait being the ‘great man’ theories up until the 1940s, style encompasses behavioural theory until the 1960s, contingency looks at situational variables and was big in the 1980s and new theory, including charismatic, transformational and visionary which are still popular today.  It doesn’t really extend into the critical theory I’ve been looking at recently, but it does tough on feminist readings.

One perspective that grabbed my attention immediately was the shift from individual to collective when examining leadership and the implications that flow from this. All of the theories described previously relate to the role of the individual as leader, and predominantly the vertical leader.  The heroic figure at the top of the organisation, masculine in nature, who exercised command and control authority. There has been some research into the role of followers, but generally they are described as passive figures that as led and ‘saved’ by the more active leader.

More recently, however, there has been a shift toward seeing leadership as a collective action.  In arts administration research there is a lot of focus on dual leadership, especially by academics like Caust and MacNeill.  There is often discussion in these writings about who is the ‘true’ leaders.  And if one subscribes to the theories of Lapierre (2001) (which it seems a large amount do) then within arts leadership dual structures the ‘real’ leader is the artistic director who provides the vision and motivation for the organisations.  The general managers provide the grunt work. (Paraphrasing clearly.)  Something about these approaches always bothered me (maybe because I’m likely to be a general manager over an artistic director.)  This is the reason I embraced a 2001 article by Ruth Rentschler that explores the idea of creativity for leaders in the arts sector, particularly in the managerial sense.  I’ve always felt that leadership within creative organisations was more likely to be seen in multiple roles….I just never had the theory or the research to back it up.

Outside of the creative sector the exploration of shared or collective leadership has been driven by two things – theoretical advancements and changing nature of works and organisations. The theory, as previously discussed, now looks at leadership as a process not just an individual action.  The spaces and interaction between individuals, 360 degree, is where leadership lies.  Organisationally, the shift from industrial to service and knowledge based industries means that people and process can’t be managed in the same way as was done in the past.  Ford and Taylor begone.

The authors say that we have moved to a post-heroic form of leadership – where leaders aim to disperse responsibility and decision making, and develop those around them to the point of making themselves dispensable.  They argue, however, that this type of leadership is often invisible in organisations because when you ask people about leadership they still view it in terms of the heroic narrative.

There is clearly still an emphasis on heroic leadership in the creative sector – the whole concept of the auteur theory in film as the director as the author of a work or the role of the artistic director of performing arts organisations are good examples.  This echoes the identity and leadership narrative, linked to gender, that I’ve discussed previously.  In this article the notion of shared leadership is phrased in gender terms, as being more feminine in ideal with a focus on the domestic realm.

What does this means from a leadership development perspective?  Firstly, there is a need for awareness of how the leadership narrative is constructed.  If leadership is seen as an individual, heroic, activity then development requirements will be seen within that light.  If leadership is a process then there are different skills and capabilities required, and development may be found through alternative avenues.

Organisation or paralysis

I’ve stepped away from feminist readings and writing.   I got to 1400 words before my brain gave up, and I haven’t sent it to S1 or 2 as I don’t think it is worthy.  That said, it will form the basis of section of feminist theory, so it ain’t all bad.

I’m taking a break from reading for a few days, to start organising my notes into sections within excel.  After only about 2 hours I have a satisfying list.  I like lists.  It gives me the ability to visually identify key themes, and how may articles I have attached to those themes.  Allowing me to quickly view where my reading is weak.  I’ve decided to do this for a week, then plug in the gaps next week, and then spend the two final weeks in April re-writing my section on leadership theory.

It does make for a challenge writing wise, given my aim of still trying to write 500+ a day (as practice.)  As I get into re-writing territory I don’t really want to add things here for the sake of posting.  Don’t forget I have another personal blog I write on 3 times a week or so.

So if I seem to be AWOL for a week or two, don’t think I’ve abandoned my (blog) post.  I am plugging away.  In fact I have a full four days at home with nothing by PhD work ahead of me, so I expect this to be a productive week.

Knowledge creep

This morning an acquaintance I know posted a comment and link in support of photographer Terry Richardson.  In essence it went something like “bitches PLEASE – if you know he’s a sleaze don’t pose for him.”  This young man, and he is young at 25, is a photographer and probably didn’t know what was about to hit him.

As a teenager I was well known for my love of an argument, and the perceived victories I had over others.  My best friend likes to remind me that I ended a lot of arguments by raising my hands in the air, soccer victory style, and yelling “I WIN I WIN.” I would say I have mellowed in my old age, and am much more likely to ignore rather than engage.  Also, I’ve also always preferred my debates in person, rather than online.

But I also feel that ‘not engaging’ on my part is turning just a little bit into ‘condoning.’  The only way that people will change their views, and begin to understand the issues associated with gender politics or violence against women (and others) is if we DO engage.

So I politely, but insistently, suggested that maybe the “bitches please” view wasn’t necessarily the most informed judgement.  While not engaging in a conversation regarding the alleged guilt of Terry Richardson (though I am not a fan of his portrayal of women and the stories are shocking) I hoped I could at least get this friend to understand the complexities of power, gender politics and violence.

To his credit he took on board my comments, and engaged me with his views. I suspect there was a bit of eye rolling when I raised the ideas of power and institutional influences, that it wasn’t just the case of a man and and a woman, but a whole mess of other baggage.

Why write this here (and not my personal blog)? Clearly my desire to engage on this topic has been influenced by the readings I’ve done in the past week, and while my opinions have not changed, the language and arguments I may use have been enhanced by the knowledge I’ve gained.

Sometimes I feel like Keanu Reeves as he is learning kung fu in The Matrix; undertaking a PhD is a fast track to knowledge, not just within the narrow parameters of your discipline. It creeps into the rest of your life and informs everything else you do.  Just this week I’ve thought about how my yoga practice informs, and is informed, by my study, the relationship between my teaching and writing, and now I’ve found I’m aiming to enlighten people I hardly know via facebook comments!

This is an unexpected benefit, for me, of this educative process.  My belief is that education is to expand your mind, not just to equip you with a vocation to earn money. I am personally blessed with the luxury of being able to dedicate three (or four) years to expanding my mind (and helping increase the scope of knowledge in my discipline).

How lucky am I?


So I have been writing….just not very quickly (or well)

It hasn’t been the best week, outcome wise. There’s been a lot of sitting in front of the screen, but not a lot of words to show for it.  While I WILL have 2,000 words or so on feminist theory by the end of tomorrow, I don’t necessarily feel that I’d make as much progress as I had last week.  For now, here’s a start (excuse my endnote references littering the text.)

Feminist theories attempt to understand the pervasive and persistent gender inequality without our society and factors underlying women’s oppression {Kark, 2004 #645}.   Theories vary, often in respect to the underlying causes of the inequality or oppression. Feminist theory, as applied to leadership and leadership development, can provide a useful lens with which to test not only the validity of commonly proposed theory but the assumptions that underly the theories construction.  In addition they can bring insight into some of the distinctive challenges leaders within the creative industries may face.

Feminist theoretical perspectives can be defined as critical discourses, targeted at the existing status quo and therefore always entail a political agenda. Kark (2004) provides an outline of three types of feminist theory with different methods and agendas.  Gender reform feminism, the most liberal of the three, asserts that there are no biological differences between the genders, and studies tend to examine the differences between men and women to ascertain the reasons for lack of equity.  This is the most prevalent type of feminist theory when reviewing leadership literature..  Gender resistance feminism also focusses on the differences between the genders, but argues that those differences should be recognised and celebrated. Whereas gender reform feminists see inequality as an individual challenge, resistance theory sees it as a result of institutional and systemic faults within the environment in which we work and live.   Critics of gender resistance approaches argue by highlighting differences between male and female leaders stereotypes can be further entrenched.  Gender rebellion feminism is the most radical of the three,  that focuses less on the individuals within the institutional framework but on the potential reevaluation of the framework itself. This theory aligns most closely with some of the previously discussed critical leadership theories, as proponents argue for the removal of the dualities, such as male/female or man/woman, that dominate research and discussion on gender.  Instead, rebellion theorists suggest, there should be a continuum or a multiplication of the categories discussed.  Most of the feminist research into leadership falls into the first category, reformer, but in recent years there has been an increased focus on the post modern and post structuralist approaches of gender rebellion feminism.

As with other critical approaches to leadership theory, the analysis of language is crucial. Textual analysis was a factor in many of the studies of leadership from a feminist perspective {Wilkinson, 2008 #586} {Ford, 2005 #581} {Ayman, 2010 #642} {Kark, 2004 #645}. In some cases it is the language os the theories, or researchers, that comes under consideration, or how the media uses language to construct leadership definitions, or how the individual leader/researcher relates to the language of leadership theory and aims to see past the prominent notions.

An example of the way feminist readings are used to review leadership theory is undertaken by Ayman and Korabik {Ayman, 2010 #642}. They look at six key leadership theories that dominated discourse in the twentieth century and assess their strengths and weaknesses from a feminist, and cultural, perspective.  They conclude that in most cases leadership is not a gender neutral phenomenon, and importantly, that even though male and female leaders may undertake the same actions, women leaders are often  perceived differently.  This demonstrates the weakness of behavioural and contingency leadership theory as the impact of leadership success in not always in the hands of the individual leader. Kark (2004), on the other hand takes an in-depth look at transformational leadership. She argues that transformational leadership is seen as a highly relevant theory in todays organisations given it aligns with the need for organisations to be more flexible, employees more empowered and adaptable to market change.  She also suggests that transformational leadership is associated with stereotypes of the way women lead, or are perceived to lead, which has been reported in other studies {Burke, 2001 #301}. Transformational leadership, it is claimed, lies in contrast to many other leadership theories where the type of behaviour seen as appropriate  “coincides with the images of masculinity and centres on rationality, measurement, objectivity, control and competitiveness”{Ford, 2005 #581}.

The analysis of previously undertaken leadership studies, like those discussed previously, tend to fall into two categories; feminist readings into the way studies have been carried out, or readings in to the way the results have been interpreted {Ayman, 2010 #642}.   However there has emerged a third way that gender and feminism has been included in leadership studies through the work of Sinclair {Sinclair, 2004 #646}.  She has considered the role of leadership by viewing it through a personal lens, demonstrating her developing understanding of leadership theory, and critiquing it, by using her experiences as a teacher and leader in a male dominated institutional setting.  She wants to “take leadership out of the organisational context and put it in the life context.” (14)

This different way of considering the role gender plays within leadership discussions brings to the centre the role of the researcher.  Traditionally within leadership discourse, the role of the researcher is seen to be neutral one {Ford, 2005 #581}.  As discussed in the previous section on critical theory, the study of leadership was seen as akin to the study of natural science, with similar approaches {Alvesson, 2012 #589}.  Many of the feminist readings of leadership studies have called into question the supposed objectivity of the researcher, highlighting that they play a role in “constructing the very reality s/he is attempting to investigate” {Ford, 2005 #581}. In contrast, authors such as Ayman and Korabik focus less on the impact the researchers may have in the construction of leadership and more on the mechanics of the studies themselves {Ayman, 2010 #642}.

One of the key areas of discussion in these, and other, feminist readings of leadership theory is the concept of identity.  Papers such as Sinclair’s (2004) take a narrative approach and show how identity is shaped through personal leadership experiences, while Wilkinson and Blackmore (2010) have conducted a study showing the relationship between media portrayals of female leadership and a number of selected female academic leaders.  This study examines the media’s role in meaning making, and highlights not only how constructed representations of leadership are not seen as representative by women leaders themselves, but also how they shape others perceptions. Female interviewees within the study suggested that they are sometimes not recognised as leaders within their own workplaces by peers and students due to their lack of similarity with the media constructed ideals {Wilkinson, 2008 #586}.  Similarly Sinclair (2004) discusses her own feedback from students and how they  perceived her leadership capabilities and styles as different from her male counterparts.

Don’t get pregnant. If you can help it…

This might explain why were were encouraged to form a good relationship with the university counsellors…

The Thesis Whisperer

This post is by Walter Reinhardt, a PhD student at ANU’s Fenner school where he is investigating demand management policy for residential water and electricity use. Walter is now at the pointy end of his degree, but he took time out to play with the stats and tell you what the likelihood is of you encountering a major life event during your PhD.

A few weeks ago I had a meeting with my PhD supervisors. Gave them draft chapters, chapter outlines and results enough for a couple more. I asked them, in their experience, if they thought it could be submitted by mid next year and what advice they’d give me if I went for it. Straight off the bat, one of them remarked: “Don’t get pregnant.”

We laughed.

It’s kind of hard for me to do that. I’m a dude with an unappealing mo’ for a start. But…

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