*head desk*

My inability to formulate a comprehensive research question is clearly indicative of my capacity to complete this PhD. Here’s my current thinking. Note, there is no one question.

The reluctant leaders: Constructing leadership identity in the Australian arts and cultural sector

My topic: The construction of leadership identity in the Australian arts and cultural sector.

My research problem:   As the arts and cultural sector has become a more visible contributor to the Australian economy there has been a renewed discussion about the importance of leadership within it.  While the organisational approaches to, and the relative effectiveness of, arts and cultural leadership have been debated both theoretically and within the media, we know little about how arts and cultural leaders construct their identity. Arts management approaches to leadership are built on functionalist assumptions of a positive relationship between individuals and leadership, but evidence suggests that this is not always the case.  Emerging leaders within the arts and cultural sector often have a complex, sometimes reluctant, relationship with their own leader identity and the concept of leadership.

My purpose: This research uses critical approaches to identity construction to examine nine disciplinary based communities of practice located within the Australian arts and cultural sector, analysing emerging leader identity development, identifying influences that contribute to identity work, exploring the issue of leadership reluctance and identifying the strategies that have emerged from within the communities that mitigate it.

My research questions:

  • What factors contribute to identity work of arts and cultural emerging leaders?
  • Are arts and cultural practitioners “reluctant leaders”, and if so why?
  • How do communities of practice contribute to positive construction of leadership identity?

Tying myself in knots

It’s been a rough couple of PhD weeks.  I’ve felt very stuck and inadequate.  While I have been plugging away at my word count (now about 60,000) I’ve been increasingly concerned that I haven’t yet hit on the conceptual ideas that hold my thesis together.  My ever calm supervisor suggests this will come, usually about 5 weeks from submission. But with 5 months before planned submission I’ve getting increasingly terrified.  I really hit a road block with my third data chapter, which really should hold it all together – be outlining my key theoretical contributions.  And they are just not there.  The feedback from AIMAC 2015 is echoing in my head “You are just writing a consulting report.”

I have these interconnecting themes – leadership theory, identity development, communities of practice and social learning, but I can’t seem to put them all together.

Despite being a bit behind schedule I’ve decided to do two things this week:

a) Take a step back and re-read/take notes on the intersection of leadership/development/identity theory.  This may lead to a few things including, a slight rework of my literature review, some changes to my methodology chapter and a centring of identity in my data chapters.

b) Have four days off. I’m finishing my job on Wednesday, and while I’m having an introductory meeting with my new job on Thursday I have decided to consider these days as holiday.  My husband and I are going away for two nights and I’m going to recalibrate.

Today, however, I’ve sat down and read.  A few lines within Carroll, B., & Levy, L. (2010)* stand out. They mention using identity as a theoretical and methodological frame to understand leadership development.  Which is pretty much what I’m doing.  Where they examine “future leaders” participating in leadership development programs, I’m examining “emerging leaders and their communities” within the cultural sector.  Where they consider the influence leadership development programs have on identity construction, I’m considering how participation in communities of practice informs identity development.

So my whole thesis becomes:

  • How do creative practitioners in Australia socially construct their leadership identity?

This research uses social constructionist concepts of identity as a theoretical and methodological lens to frame and understand leadership development within Australian Cultural Sector. The research demonstrates how communities of practices play a vital role in facilitating identity work for emerging cultural leaders. 

I’m not sure where this is going, but I’ll follow it and see.

*

Carroll, B., & Levy, L. (2010). Leadership development as identity construction. Management Communication Quarterly, 24(2), 211-231.

Playing with visual formats

Still working on my reluctant leadership chapter. Almost drafted, but I’m playing around with models for displaying information.  My supervisory rightly advised me not to slip into caricature so I’m thinking of ways to be simple but show complexity.

 

Slide1

Persona
Characteristics
Constructions of leadership
Reluctance
Compares themselves to
Shares attributes with
The Collector
Collects jobs, brands, salary and experiences. Always looking forward. Lack reflection.
Functionalist, hierarchical, great man links?
Medium
Exemplars
The Underdog
The Learner
Compares leadership ability to an ideal – expansion of knowledge expands view of self.
Expands with learning
Low
Prototypes
The Collector
The Outsider
Consciously puts themselves outside the creative leadership paradigm. Just does it.
Charismatic
None
No one
The Community Builder
The Underdog
Concerned with reputation. Influenced by Tall poppy syndrome.
Charismatic, transformational
High
Everyone
The Community Builder
The Community Builder
Develops leadership understanding through legitimate peripheral participation.
Collective, distributed, relational
Low
Prototypes
The Learner

Leadership identity categories

There’s something going on this fortnight  Personally it’s been huge (we bought a house) and usually this would be a one way ticket to PhD avoidance, but for some strange reason I have also been super productive in this space too. While going to yoga, work, dance class AND submitting my first tender for long term facilitation contracts. It’s been nuts.

After yoga yesterday I rushed home to write yesterday’s post so as not to lose the thoughts.  After finally having a shower and breakfast I sat down with Riessman’s Narrative Methods for the Human Sciences and spent the afternoon reading.  This book helped more than any other with my thoughts on methodology.  And I knew then I had to revisit what I’d written last week and look at the broader narratives in my primary interviews from a thematic narrative analysis perspective.

Today I sat down and reread all nine primary interviews and constructed their narratives around leadership, bigger than just the answer to the question “Do you consider yourself a leader?”  I found patterns, categories which I am now shaping for my reluctant leadership chapter. I also fleshed out my case study introductions, adding more than just demographic information. In the end my Chapter 5, which I am supposed to have 5,500 words by now, I cut to 2,900 but I have added to two other chapters.  Win some, lose some.

What I’m left with are five archetypes in terms of my participants relationship to leadership.  They are:

  • The collectors: the collectors are about building a career through targeting experiences, companies or brands they want to work with. Each new item added to their career portfolio is checked off a list.  Public recognition of their work, through awards, job offers, promotion or salary increases are representative of their leadership status.  But they are unwilling to recognise themselves as leaders, regardless of job title or position, as they  are always comparing themselves to the ‘next thing’ (the exemplar). They never see themselves as a leader for what they are doing now. There is always something lacking.
  • The learners: these individuals see learning as crucial to leadership, participating in leadership courses is the way they seek external validation for being a leader.  “I’m in this room therefore I deserve to be here. ”  For some they learn enough to then embrace leadership identity, particularly when their definition of what constitutes leadership is expanded from the more narrow media constructions they had before , for others there is always something more to learn before they can ‘live’ leadership.
  • The community builders: These participants are the ones that surround themselves with a community of practice, unconsciously or consciously, who focus on collaborative practice and achieving goals with others. They can be multi-disciplinary or focussed on a single creative practice, but the learning and psychosocial support they receive from a close network means they are the most likely to embrace leadership identity, particularly relational or distributed leadership.
  • The outsiders: the individuals who see themselves are as working outside the traditional arts/creative paradigm. Whether it be because of gender/class/race/education they do not fear disenfranchisement for from the establishment for being loud, outspoken or opinionated because they are already outside looking in.  The see others are being afraid to speak out and step up and be leaders (unlike themselves.)
  • The Aussies: (I don’t like this term but I’m struggling to find one that fits.) Those who can see their influence and inspirational potential to others, but work alone, are self motivated and are terrified of being seen as egomaniacal or ‘up themselves.’

Clearly these are a work in progress, but I can see where it’s heading.

One thing I have been worried about is the way I was going to link my primary participant interviews (on reluctant leadership) to my secondary case studies.  But I think I am starting to see a path: we start with the narrow focus on reluctant leadership, comparing across cases to explore the how/what/why.  The second chapter positions the emerging leader (primary participant) back within their case to examine how situated learning and communities of practice influence the formation of leadership identity and reluctance, with the third data chapter drawing recommendations and implications from this.

After 36 hours of intense reading/writing (I’ve written more in 24 hours than I had all last week) I am about to crash and go make white chocolate cookies.  I know I need a day away from the PhD – I haven’t had a day off this past fortnight, but I’m a little scared I’ll lose momentum.

 

Storytelling

I’ve spent a week writing the beginnings of my first data chapter. While the theme of it, reluctant leadership, is clear in my mind, the process for explaining it and really analysing it is not.  This has been one of my main challenges in the whole research process.  I don’t feel I have a grasp on the process of documenting my research, my methodology.  Data collection, no worry, lots of fun, loved it and I think I have some really great material.  Crafting that into a thesis….not so much.

So I’ve flailed around a little this week, which I am not really sorry about. I think there is a need for flailing in life (hey, I tap dance which for me is 90% flailing.)  Even though I haven’t written my 4,000 quota (I’m at 3270 ) I decided today to revisit my narrative methodology books to think more about actual process.  Because I keep waiting for a step by step guide that says how to do this.

One: I don’t think that is going to appear.

Two: I’m missing a big piece here.

Just now I went to yoga, I’m still averaging 3 times a week at yoga now, though I have really let up on myself about how ‘good’ I am at it or how far I progress week to week. (I could learn a few lessons from that right?)  I now just go to clear my head, break a sweat and move my body.*

Lying in savasanna my mind wandered back to my PhD, the fact I wasn’t writing today but reading, and the thematic issues I’m grappling with.

And then I thought: what is the story I am trying to tell?

Here I am trying to shoe horn myself into narrative methodologies without thinking about the narrative I want to tell my readers, my examiners.  What story is the data telling me.  Forget (for a minute) how I extract and report that story, but what is the story to begin with.

So I’ve just written four points on post it notes and stuck them on my wall.

  1. What is the story I am trying to tell?
  2. The reluctant creative leader
    • How can we see them?
    • Why do we see them?
  3. How do we remove reluctance?
    • Through social and situated learning in communities of practice
      • Facilitated how? (Through legitimate peripheral participation driven proactively, organisationally or educationally.)
    • Why is gender important? (Because it is – the three groups of non-reluctant leaders are all female driven.)
  4. What can we learn from this?
  5. How can we use it?
  6. Why is this important?
  7. What are the recommendations?

I’m still going to step back and thinking about narrative research for the rest of the day (while I’m slow cooking a lamb roast) but I’m not going to lose sight of the story I want to tell.

  • My supervisor once told me that ‘work’ within your PhD takes many forms, it is not just the time spent at your desk.  I find I get a lot of my big ideas on the yoga mat.

 

Structuring my literature review

This morning, after a nice 10 day PhD break, starting my new job and a week in Bali, I sat down to map out the next 8 months of work.  That is one scary proposition.  As I’m now working two weekdays, I have set myself weekly and monthly goals which I think are achievable but leaves little room for stuff like reading new articles or networking with other researchers.

Even with the strict schedule I still can’t see myself finishing a draft until mid-October.  That seems dangerously late if I want to hand it in before year’s end.  Knowing I will need time for rewriting, formatting and external editing.  I’m hoping that all the writing I’ve already done (a draft methodology, a draft introduction to case studies, a start on my literature review) means I might actually be ahead of the schedule. Fingers crossed.

  My challenge in March is to pull together my literature review.  In someways I’ve been looking forward to this, as the big themes of my research (leadership, development and identity) have never wavered, so I have a pretty good understanding of at least two of those three. Identity needs to be worked on and expanded (not just in thesis world believe me) but I’m pretty comfortable.

One thing I hadn’t though much about was the structure.  The work I’d done in me Stage 1 was pretty linear – chronological discussion of leadership theory, for example.  But what I hadn’t really done was a) thought about how they all connect together, and b) relate them back to the research question in a systematic fashion (the fact I still don’t have a true research question is still out there too of course.)  I’m struggling to define a question that doesn’t use ‘how’ in it.  In a nutshell it’s a comparison of the development of leadership identity, understanding and capability in different sectors within the Australian creative industries.

That’s why I was happy to come across these series of posts that were shared by UTS’s Nick Hopwood.  Today i’ve spent some time playing with the process to explain why I’m writing on what I will. If I take the key words in my research proposition, if not a question, above, you get development, leadership, identity and sectors within the creative industries (context). I know I need to explain the idea of understanding, capability and identity too, but I am choosing to bundle understanding and capability into the development of leadership capacity.

Slide1

By starting with my themes I realised that something was missing – context.  Context is an incredibly important part of what I am examining.  In undertaking a comparison of the development of leadership identity, understanding and capability I am setting my study not only in the creative industries but within each examined sector. Does this mean that my writing on the creative industries needs to go in to the literature review? Not sure on that yet, but it is important.

Instead of writing on these four things, there need to be a relationship to between them and back to the research question. Wentzel describes this as identifying the assumptions.  My assumptions are:

  1. Leadership is important or valuable.
  2. There is no one right definition of leadership.
  3. Leaders can be developed.
  4. The what is leadership and the development process differs depending on context.
  5. Part of becoming a leader is embracing leadership identity.

What writing this down does is removes me from my half baked findings and take a step back.  My first (two, three) iterations of these were bogged down in the idea of the creative industries (not context) and I was trying to outline my argument, not what I needed to theorise.

The next step is to bring these all together into a flowing (maybe not) paragraph.

As leadership contributes to both organisational and individual success (1) so the development of leaders is seen to be of economic and societal value (3).   Part of the leadership development process  in creating successful future leaders is the construction of leadership identity (5), yet given the lack of a singular leadership definition of leadership (2) or a defined process in which it can be developed development actions vary contextually (4).

I’m not overly happy with that…..

But…to keep going, from here there is a grouping of assumptions:

  • The concept of leadership and why it is important within the (creative industries) context
  • How leadership development occurs with particular focus on social and contextual aspects
  • How is identity impacted by leadership/leadership development, especially if development is contextualised. Would different environments means different development which creates different types of leaders?

Which in someways brings be back to the three themes  – leadership, identity and development, but it highlights the importance of context at all levels.

Finally these is reduced to a ‘talk show script’ which highlights the need to investigate why each of these assumptions exist and their counterclaims as the literature review unfolds.

Claim Response (trigger question)
As leadership contributes to both organisational and individual success

 

How does it do that? Is it proven?
the development of leaders is seen to be of economic and societal value 

 

Is it? How is that demonstrated? And how are they developed?
Part of the leadership development process in creating successful future leaders is the construction of leadership identity

 

What constitutes a successful leader?

Why is leadership identity important? What happens if leadership identity isn’t embraced?

given the socially constructed nature of  leadership there is no singular definition of what leadership is

 

What are the definitions of leadership? How is leadership socially constructed?
defined process in which it can be developed development actions vary contextually.

 

How might environment or context change development? Is it a matter of resources? Is development a collective or singular activity? Is there no ‘right way’ to develop leaders? Is that even possible given there’s no definition?

Next week it’s on to the writing.