Leadership and the researcher identity

I’m in the midst of preparing for my Stage 1 assessment, with the presentation next week and the paper due a month after.  It’s been an interesting process that has followed a pattern that is becoming awfully familiar to me.  It goes something like this:

1. I mentally put together a draft, overly confident that I know everything that is needed.

2. I write that draft ridiculously early, clap my hands together and pat myself on the back for a job well done.

3. I continue to read and maybe see what others in my cohort are doing.

4. Doubt begins to creep in.

5. All I can see are the gaps and weaknesses.

6. Full blown panic.

7. Frantic attempt to throw together new concepts (with varying degrees of success.)

This pattern reached a new apex yesterday when I had my first meltdown in front of my poor unsuspecting supervisor after I crashed her office without an appointment.  Yesterday was the first time I really contemplated chucking the process in, not because I didn’t want to do it, but because I’m not sure I am intellectually capable of doing it.  Self pity yes, but also factoring in that I am not from an academic background, I’m from a professional background and the leaps of learning that are needed at this late stage of the game (mentally) are considerable.

Of course if I did stop what then? There would go my teaching (which is likely to be cut anyhow due to budget restraints leading to a cessation of use of sessional lecturers) and a need for a whole rethink of my long term plans. And quite frankly that is too scary to contemplate.

Why am I all writing this? Because there’s actually a link between all this angst and what I am researching.

In the past month, as I’ve begun my first round of interviews, I’ve come to realise that investigating ‘leadership’ and ‘development’ as concepts on their own is not going to be sufficient.  I came to the PhD with very limited understanding of what real research was, and that was based on a functionalist idea of objective, quantitative research.  Over time I concluded that the role of the researcher in this study was going to be prominent, but mainly because of the influence of my background, or pre-understanding, and my networks in the industry.

Over the year I’ve shed initial plans, like undertaking a quantitative survey, while broadening my understanding of leadership and development considerably. I’ve been fortunate enough to be teaching in this space to help embed the ideas.  The area of identity has come to the forefront, how emerging leaders accept or reject the role of leader, how development activity influences that relationship to leadership.


This had me consider my own rejection of the role of the leader. First after a challenging experience in my first professional job, but also once I changed careers in my late 30s.  I too, like the subject of me research, have been unwilling to embrace the term.  But it actually goes further than that.

Critical theorists say that development can be an affront to identity, we have preconceived ideas of our self, and the process of learning new skills and knowledge can attack those ideas, creating a sense of unease.

In spending three years exploring leadership, development and identity and learning the research process (rapidly and haphazardly) I too am going through a significant development process, impacting my own sense of self and my understanding of leadership from a personal perspective.

And to say that is causing a sense of unease is an understatement.

I’m not sure how, or if, this will be factored in to my final thesis.  I admire greatly academics such as Amanda Sinclair (who I wrote about here) who includes her personal stories in her work.  But I feel the right to do this may need to be earned, and to include this in my first (and maybe only) piece of research may not be appropriate.

I do need document this personal process, however, one because writing helps me clarify thoughts and put things in perspective (greatly needed) but also if I do use this in my thesis a record of my personal journey may be useful.  So it’s time to dust of the blog somewhat and reflect, weekly I think, about how this development process is impacting my identity.

Wish me luck.