Storytelling and rejection of leadership

Yesterday I found out I am to have one, maybe three, operations on my arm if I am to regain full use and mobility.  It seems like an excessive amount of time, money and effort to fix an injury I received from falling over, but I guess them’s the breaks (pun intended.)  While I’m already feeling a bit overwhelmed, the knowledge that I will be back to one handed typing for another three months (at least) makes me want to hyperventilate. Any recommendations for voice activated software for the computer would be well received.  If it’s not too expensive, and works, it might be a good solution.

I’ve given myself a deadline of one month to finish my methodology consideration, and my supervisor wants to see me in two weeks, so it’s all systems go.  I’m trying not to think about the fact I have 50 essays to mark as of 12th June.

Today I’m thinking about storytelling and how it has impacted my life, and my research choices.  I’ve always been a reader and someone who gets lost in stories.  My father taught me to read by us working through the May Gibbs books, and these are the first memories I have of being transported away.

As I got older, I was interested in the psychoanalytic and feminist implications of stories, especially fairy tales.  I was fascinated by Bruno Bettelheim’s analysis of fairy tales from a Freudian perspective and wrote my first thesis on a reading of children’s fantasy film.

From a leadership perspective I found John Kotter’s discussion of how storytelling plays a role in change and leadership to be very relevant and useable. The power of story telling and narrative in our lives is to me, obvious, and clearly something that I keep returning too.

I hadn’t, however, considered it in terms of my PhD research.  I was caught up in the positivist approach where I thought I could objectively study leadership phenomena.  Now I know better.  In some ways this is good as it has opened the door for me to consider narrative and storytelling, and clearly this is something good for me.

One issue that keeps popping up is the rejection of the idea of leadership.  I see this so often when speaking on my thesis to others.  “What is your topic?” “Leadership development in the Australian creative industries.” “That’s interesting because we have no leaders.” An example conversation I’ve participated in 10 or 20 times this year.

Then, with my students, I come across an active dislike of the term.  In my leadership lecture last week I pushed them to name a leader they admired or inspired them – from the sector ideally.  And not one of them could.  In addition, when discussing the evolution of the degree they are completing they all indicated a name change that included the term leadership was a terrible idea.

Why this complete rejection of the leadership concept? They themselves saw the idea as elitist and not relevant. It is an area that I feel I have to explore, but the question is when and how – is it part of this thesis or another independent piece of research?

My current idea is to conduct me research through interviews, but not just with the subjects themselves, but with a number of people around them.  I wonder then, if the idea of leadership rejection will come out in the study, or if participants who argue to contribute will have a different view?

Enough for now, I have about 20 books on qualitative and narrative research methods to get through.


2 thoughts on “Storytelling and rejection of leadership

  1. I think a lot of people reject the concept of leaders and leadership these days because they have been let down and disappointed so often by their so-called leaders (such as elected people) or by people they admire and look up and think of as leaders. I think we like to believe our leaders are beyond reproach, that they represent everything we aspire to and everything we hope for the world or at least for our community or for ourselves but of course they (the leaders) aren’t infallible, they are human just like the rest of us. They stuff up, they have skeletons in their closets, they have faults and flaws and more often than not, these days those faults are eventually (if not always) discovered and flaunted all over social media and news media and the whole world nows. And if that person was someone you looked up to, you feel stupid and naive for believing in them, for thinking highly of them, when in all reality, that person was never any less human or less fallible than the rest of us. It is difficult for us to admire people and respect them and look up to them when we know their specific faults and character flaws and there is no hiding anything in this day and age. I also think a lot of people are loathe to take on the mantle of leadership for this very reason. They don’t think they are worthy, they know their own faults and limitations and they don’t want to put themselves out there for public scrutiny. I know a lot of amazingly talented people (in their area of expertise) but they refuse to put themselves out there as experts or leaders because they know tall poppies always get cut down, even if the tall poppy never wanted to be that tall in the first place.

    I am also doing qualitative and narrative research and would love to know what books you are reading and any you recommend!

    And typing one handed for months on end? Is your problem arm your dominant arm? I was in hospital recently and had a canula in my dominant hand and was beyond frustrated because I can’t type with my left hand. Needless to say I am now way behind in coursework and research because of that. I wish you all the best for your surgery.

    • Thanks so much for your thoughts, and I agree.
      It’s my non-dominant hand, which is a small mercy, but still a nightmare.

      I’m currently reading Narrative methods for organizational & communication research by Boje, which is interesting. but I have a whole lot of others to collect from the library today.

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