A revelation (with a lot of help)

I was complaining to my supervisor yesterday. I know, what a surprise. This particular complaint was about just how hard writing is. Again, surprise. I really find the process of pulling together chapters to be more physically and psychologically challenging than I expected. I thought that by now, almost three years in, it would be ‘coming together.’I keep waiting for what I call the tipping point where I feel comfortable in my knowledge of my subject.

The tipping point on leadership theory came early last year.  I now comfortably roll my eyes when someone extols the virtue of authentic leadership as I know enough to debunk it.* But theoretically and methodologically my own thesis is far from that point. My ever helpful supervisor said “oh it will likely come just as you finish.” Great.  Which means eight months of sweat and tears.  

Of course this is a job.  A different sort of job, but still a job.  It’s not all coffee and yoga breaks. So I have to keep that in mind and remind my husband frequently. 

On another note my supervisor and I talked research question and how I haven’t cracked that yet either.  She said I don’t technically need a simple question, but I feel I do. We agreed that the words leadership, capability, understanding, identity, creative industries and Australia all need to be in there.  But then she added one more that blew open the door to my thinking: comparison. 

Given I’m writing on nine different sectors within the creative industries I always planned to do some ‘compare and contrast’ work.  But I had always positioned my thesis as a comparison to the broader economy, to the corporate sector that tries to learn creativity from the arts. “But you’re not talking about the broader economy in the study” my supervisor said quite rightly. That is way too broad.

What I’m doing is a comparison on how different sectors within the creative industries develop leadership capability, understanding and identity. How they differ in uses of social learning, how their views toward leadership shift and how organisations play varying roles in that development. 

I almost feel like it’s cheating. Like she gave me the answer.  That one word suddenly repositioned my whole structure. I’m currently in the midst of re-listening and coding my interviews and, even though I’m only three sectors in, the key themes are so strong it’s crazy.  I can see three distinct chapters, one on the rejection of leadership/construction of leadership context and identity, one on the differences between sectors, with emphasis on organisational development and precariousness of employment, and one on confidence and its links to development of capability, identity and understanding. But all looking between the cases not outside them. 

Of course this isn’t the tipping point. As see the road is not walking along it. But it’s the first step. 
* I was looking at the publications of the academic who got my ‘dream job’ at Melbourne Uni. He has about 15 publications and two books and graduated with his PhD 2015.  This is why I’m now applying for jobs with Craft Victoria. But he had written some book reviews, which I read, and the confidence (there’s that word again) with which he unpacked and critiqued books I had read and valued made it clear why he will have a long academic career and why I will be more happy where I can teach in a professional context. Jealous, absolutely, but realistic. 

Research question dilemma

I mentioned in a few previous posts that my once rock solid research question has suddenly started to falter.  I changed from one, to another, and now  I am in a real limbo.  Everything is coming down to definitions in flux.

Originally I was examining leadership development in the Australian creative industries.

  • How do emerging leaders in the Australian creative industries develop their leadership capabilities?

Which then added the sub question of…

  • How do emerging leaders within the Australian creative industries relate to, and define, leadership?

But then it moved towards the issue of identity, and became:

  • How do members of the Australian creative industries develop their leadership identity?

But now I realise my definition of leadership development constitutes three different areas:

  1. Leadership capability – having the skills, knowledge and attributes to act as a leader.
  2. Leadership understanding – have knowledge of leadership concepts (learned either consciously or unconsciously) to form an individual view of what constitutes leadership.
  3. Leadership identity – having formed a position regarding one’s own relationship to leadership, i.e. willingness (or not) to be called (and act) as leader.

You can reject the title of leader but still act as a leader, and probably vice versa.

I basically need to combine my three questions together.

Complicating this is my view of the differences between leadership and leaders, which I have articulated here many times. So I’m trying to examine how creative practitioners in Australia learn leadership capability and understanding and form leadership identity.  But that’s not really a snappy question is it?

I played around with…

How to practitioners in the Australian creative industries learn to be leaders?

But that a) uses the world leaders, which I don’t like as much as leadership and b) it feels too direct.  I never actually asked that question. I asked if my subjects WERE leaders, not how they became leaders.

Which brings me to

How to practitioners in the Australian creative industries learn leadership?

Which feels too clunky for me and doesn’t really cover the breadth of what I’m doing either.

I still feel leadership development is the way to go – I can then unpack the concept into the three categories listed above without the question becoming torturous.  SO the original question works, except for the focus on capabilities.

How do practitioners in the Australian creative industries develop their leadership capabilities, understanding and identity?


Suggestions welcome.



Methodological ramblings

Welcome to 2016.  I don’t really feel like I’ve had a break as I’ve gone from STPA in Adelaide to methodology writing to transcription (which I’ve finished!) to IFACCA abstract writing to methodology again. I even worked through Christmas to New Year. I’m feeling under pressure to get the bones of thesis done by July, when my scholarship ends, and something submitted by the end of the year.  Economically and psychologically I can’t be without an income for 12 months so I need to get back into the workforce in early 2017, which means hopefully finishing this 6 months early.

Before Christmas I wrote a skeleton methodology chapter but it felt too theoretical and not enough about what I actually did/am doing.  For the past two days I have stepped away from theory to free write about the process, the decisions I made along the way and what happened.  It’s taken a lot longer than I expected, but also raised things that I hadn’t thought about before.  It’s over 2,000 words, which also surprised me.   Once I’m finished I hope to meld this to my theory draft for something more appropriate to share with my supervisor, and at this rate it will easily form a distinct chapter.  But in the meantime I thought I’d share the free writing here.(Excuse typos.)

The methodological approach was inspired by a desire to understand what influences the development of leadership capability in the emerging leaders of the Australian arts sector.  The idea of capability was the starting point, in some way because of the academic focus on the leadership development being the creation of capabilities within individuals, but also because of my personal human resources background which had capability development as a central focus.   In the early stages of planning for the research a more quantitative approach was considered to catalogue the types of activities undertaken by those in the arts to develop or enhance their capabilities in terms of leadership.

While qualitative tools such as surveys may have provided a snapshot of activities undertaken, there was still doubt around the effectiveness of participation in such events and what really enacted changes in leadership behaviours. Those with training and development experience can advise that a) people value facilitated learning more highly than other forms of development (even when it is shown to be less effective) as it feels like their ‘idea of learning.’ In addition the collection of data about recently attended training, or those not he day, sometimes knowns as ‘happy sheets’, provides a type of halo bias that suggests training is adding more value than it really does.

These quantitative techniques, to me, lacked depth to help understand what truly constitutes effective leadership development. Even when quantitative tools were still on the agenda I always saw the need to supplement with some form of interview. Over time I realised that interviews were going to be the more effective method of data collection and the statistical idea dropped by the wayside.

The idea of interviewing multiple people about the development of a single individual came from the concept of triangulation. In corporate practice it is standard to participate in some form of 360 degree feedback when undertaken leadership development, to get a holistic view of performance and potential.  This HR orientated technique is mostly done through anonymous surveys, but as you get to executive level it can be done via interviews.  Collection of data about one individual I this way provides a much bigger picture on how they operate.

My original plan to interview an emerging leader, a peer, a mentor, a supervisor and an subordinate hinged on the idea of validity – was what the emerging leader said as being the most effective development technique the same as what their manager/boss or staff said?

The challenge found in some interviews from this perspective was the sometimes the secondary interviewees were not as close to the primary as I’d hoped.  And in this increasingly digital world they may have had significant contact virtually, making them less able to verify developmental techniques.

This did not make the process less useful, however, as my thoughts around interview data began to change as the process moved on.  Once I had started to collect material the question of analysis arose. A few themes emerged – first the idea of simply cataloguing the activities and the their perceived importance would have been a waste of the rich data collected from participants, falling back into a quantitative mindset.  Second, this idea of rejection of leadership kept appearing, both in casual conversations about my research and with the interview subjects themselves.  It became impossible to discuss the development of leadership capability without discussing the subject’s relationship to the concept of leadership.  There needed to be a methodological approach that highlighted or deconstructed this complex relationship.

The data showed that the idea of leadership identity was an important  as leadership capability.   Having the skills, knowledge or attributes of a leader was one thing, but choosing to be identified by yourself and others as a leader is a separate issue. One that was becoming crucial in the data. (There’s a third facet, leadership understanding, which has also emerged.)The idea of narrative analysis, or in my case analysis of narrative as there is a difference, was a way to bring to life the was emerging leaders discussed their developing, or rejection of, leadership identity.

The final issue was the role of the secondary subjects in this development of leadership identity.  At first glance,  I’m hoping to explore more in my analysis phase, the more supportive and engaged the group are in the work of the primary subject – what I began to see as participation in communities of practice – the more likely the primary subject was to see themselves as a leader.

But a second issue was also identified – and that is how subjects in each group or sector co-construct their idea of leadership through shared language and narratives.   Is leadership, which was not defined by me at any stage in the interview process, describes with similar language? Anecdotes? Analogies? What I found (or believe I have found) is that there’s a shared vision of leadership amongst these small communities of 4-5 people and only analysis of their stories will prove this to be true or not.

While these lines of thinking have guided me methodologically, there were also decisions made around who to interview, how to source and how the interviews would be conducted. Setting out to interview people across the creative industries means firstly defining what is meant by the creative industries, including justifying why the creative industries are the target, and sourcing subjects.

Despite coming from the arts management discipline I have always wanted to study the broader creative creative industries.  The reality of the sector means the divisions between for profit and not for profit are less rigid as they may have once been, and the intersection of the creative with the profit driven has always been of interest to me.  Coming from a corporate background I know this world as well, probably better, than the arts one, so it would be wrong not to utilise this experience.  That said I also wanted to explore what impact profit motive and more organisationally orientated creative areas would have on leadership development.  Those that work in advertising agencies, for example, may have more in common with the executives I saw at ANZ bank than with the curators who work in artist run initiatives.  Or not.   While academia still tends to focus on arts management, creative industries has largely been the frame of reference for economics and cultural policy.  This may be a passing fad, and there are significant implications when judging creative input/output organisations using traditional economic mechanisms, but there is also a recognition of the role creativity plays in the broader economy,, not just public good.

As the importance of the creative industries began to grow in political and economic debate there has also been considerable discussion of nomenclature and make up of the sector.  This is discussed in depth in Chapter four of my thesis, but I chose to align to the NESTA report developed in the UK, which had been used by the now defunct Creative Industries Innovation Centre based at UTS. The model considers not just outputs, creative contents, but also services versus product and experiences which covers the full range of sectors such a gaming, software design and advertising, along with more traditional art forms. My aim to became to include groups from a number of different quadrants across this model but was also influenced by the ability to source candidates and have them agree to participate.

Sourcing of participants began with identifying emerging leaders within the relevant creative industries sectors.  Having worked in the Sydney industry for a number of years the first group of subjects we identified from within my own network, with personal contact conducted via phone of email. Three of the nine primary subjects were previously known to the researcher.  The second source of subjects came through asking my existing network to recommend and introduce me to relevant subjects.  Once an individual was identified, their background and experience was verified online (generally through LinkedIn or personal websites) and if suitable email introductions made.  This process highlights the ease we have now of checking ‘reputation’ online, but also the personal marketing ability of many within the creative industries.  Two candidates were sourced in this fashion.

One individual was approached directly via their website based on their public profile and professional experience.  Coming from a very diverse background and being known for their willingness to opine I chose to approach them even without an intermediary introduction.

The final three primary candidates were sourced via social media sites. Two were found through Twitter, one a personal contact and one via a general call out and the third was identified via photo sharing site Instagram.  Like those introduced by colleagues, those found on social media had a background check done via professional websites before approaching them to participate. The benefit of sourcing candidates via such tools was being able to game some understanding of their experience and background, and build rapport, prior to physically meeting them.  In all cases appropriate ethics and confidentiality forms were signed and all interviews were conducted knowing they would be anonymous.  Underlying the sourcing of candidates was a desire to get a rough gender split (I have 3 male primary candidates and 6 female, and I think about 42/58% overall) and to cover some breadth of geography. I have groups in Melbourne, Adelaide and Hobart along with a majority from Sydney.

The interviews themselves were conducted using a semi-structured format, questions beginning with a career overview before narrowing down on the topics of skill development and leadership.  The decision was made not to introduce the research as being around leadership, because even at the early stages I knew it created negative connotations with potential subjects and might reduce their willingness to participate (self selecting out of the process based on an unwillingness to be seen as a leader.)  I also chose not to define leadership throughout the interview, and though this was an unconscious decision it turned out to be a fortuitous one as it provided narrative space for the interview subjects to construct their own versions, thus allowing me to see, or hear, their perceptions.

The interviews, over time, became less single sided and more of a conversation about development and leadership.  While this potentially reduces the objective nature of such data collection, in this research it enhanced the narrative process and highlighted the role of the researcher which was always going to be an important point.  Given the theoretical model that underpins this research and the role that implicit reflection plays in the process, it was inevitable that my own personal development was to be considered.  I am an active participant in the subject’s leadership development by providing the space for reflection during the interview process, while the individual interviews and the research process as whole are a documentation of a stage of my own leadership development.

There has always been an tension in my mind between creating a structured approach to analysis and allowing ideas to come freely or intuitively.  I have always been concerned that by undertaking analysis in a linear form I may blinker my thinking and miss crucial information.  Consequently I’m trying to follow a sense of structure but involving techniques that  open up the process.  The first step was to transcribe the 41 interviews, which was undertaken over the same 12 month period that the interviews were conducted, thus the content of the early interviews did begin to influence the conversations held in the the latter ones. The concepts of social learning and communities of practice appear more strongly in interviews in the second half of the year as the theories began to emerge from the data transcribed from earlier interviews.

This brings me to the point I’m at today.  The next step involves listening to all interviews a second time, along with the transcripts, and annotating/correcting them where relevant.  At this point the initial themes, of which there were too many, were consolidated or discarded. After this I hope to do some ‘free reading’ techniques where interview segments are looked at in isolation, cut from their context (literally) so not to read them with the speaker or industry in mind.  From there the key leadership question (Do you consider yourself a leader?) of the primary subject will be isolated, along with my comments around it, to explore narrative and leadership identity construction on thins single point.

And from there we are in unchartered waters.



Interviews and analysis

In my previous post I attempted to position my research within the social constructionist framework and map out my thinking. Recently I have been digging down to a deeper methodological area, exploring the importance of interviews and analysis.

In some ways this is work I should have done prior to conducting my data collection. And I can’t say I didn’t try, but my thinking was just not yet that advanced.  I mentioned to my supervisor last (physical) meeting that I can now see things (like understanding what theoretical or conceptual models inform articles) that I just could see a year ago.  While I probably did read up on interviews an analysis before I didn’t really absorb the ideas, because I had no frame of reference to put them in. Now,having undertaken 40 interviews and got a bit smarter in the last 12 months things are starting to make sense.

Yesterday I tried to explain to my supervisor how my methodological approach captures narrative of of, and contributes to the formation of, leadership identity. (For the record I think my new research question relates to the formation of leadership identity, I just haven’t nutted the words out yet.)  I mocked up a little diagram that shows how the interaction between myself, the primary and secondary subjects works.  In each shaded area narrative about leadership are created and leadership identity is formed through them. (And I’m attempting to overlay this diagram on the Kempster model to show how I’m exploring theory through my methodology.)


The social constructionist view I’m taking means I’m interested in how the primary subject creates leadership meaning, how they do so in interaction with secondary subjects and how they do so with me. What is clear in this is that my role is crucial. I cannot avoid considering my own view of leadership, and the formation of my own leadership identity.

This flows on to my view of what interviews are.  They are not a collection of facts, but a process that involves the interviewer (me) as much as the respondent (Kohler-Reissman).  Consequently I must incorporate questions into the analysis process (Rapley). The interviews are a personal narrative as politcal praxis (Langellier) – that is they demonstrate the way the world is seen, by me and by the respondent. I need to address the potential for fragmentation and connect interviews to sociocultural meanings, and in some way the secondary respondents are triangulating this notion of meaning.

I’ve been thinking about the differences between my visual arts and theatre groups.  I realise now I framed my conference paper (to be given next week) incorrectly. I should have shown how the narratives within each interview demonstrate a different contextual view for the participants, that shape their leadership identity formation.  They uniquely see their context  – one as aggressive an competitive, one as collaborative and nurturing –  even though they are likely facing the same economic challenges (for example.)

What this thinking has lead me to is the  realisation that not defining leadership in the interviews allowed for respondents to shape their own version through their dialogue with me. How they engage shows what their perception is. A bit of a lucky break there as it was defined by gut feel.

I still have a lot of questions, some of which will unfold in data analysis stage.  My supervisor raised the question of what I will learn from secondary participants and how that differs from what I’m learning from primary, and importantly, how am I viewing them differently. A good question, I hadn’t thought of.

Today I starting putting chunks of writing together to start shaping my methodological chapter.  Far from starting with a black piece of paper I actually have about 10,000 from my stage one, blog post and a draft context chapter.  That’s without even getting into the interview and analysis information here and my proposed plan of work.  It’s daunting, but not in the way I expected, it will test my ability to ‘kill my darlings’ as much as write new content.

But I’m very happy where my thinking is right now, and with my new, light, highly organised study space in Melbourne. It’s good to be home.


What it’s all about

It says something that I can’t think up a witty headline.

My thesis investigates the development of leadership identity through lived experience in the Australian creative industries.

Using a model of lived experience development by Kempster (2006) and the concept of learning through communities of practice (Lave, 1991) I am exploring how creative practitioners relate to leadership and learn leadership skills.

My perspective is social constructionist, that is:

  • takes a critical stance
  • is conducted within a historical, social, cultural context
  • believes knowledge a social process
  • understands the researcher cannot be separated from the research outcomes
  • sees knowledge and action  as interlinked.

There is no one ‘true’ leadership model. Leadership, like knowledge and creativity, is contextual, social and forms through the interaction of individuals. However it needs to be examined in light of context: political, economic, cultural institutions and dominant discourse.

In terms of Fairhurst and Grant’s (2010) ‘sailing guide’ to social constructionist views on leadership I believe in social construction of reality, or as Hammersely puts it ‘subtle realism’ where independent reality exists, we just cannot access it. We can represent reality, not reproduce it.

My perception aligns with Kempster’s critical realist stance in that leadership is contextual and constructed, but differs in that fact that I view it is constructed by the individuals who participate in it.

The role of the interview, and consequently role of the researcher, is also explored. If we examine Kempster’s model (below)


There is space for reflection, and the interviews conducted have become, for many, one of those spaces.

My three discussion chapters currently under consideration are:

  1. The development of leadership identity.

Exploring how my primary subjects see themselves in terms of leadership. This chapter will focus on narrative analysis and explore answers to the question “Do you consider yourself a leader?”

From this analysis a continuum may be developed demonstrating how leadership, and leadership identity is viewed by those on the creative industries.

2. Multiple leadership constructions

There is no ‘perfect’ leadership model, but many versions of leadership being undertaken by individuals as constructed by their social processes.  These multiple concepts, maybe fluid, of leadership explain two things, first, why there is no singular definition, and second, why there is a tendency to reject leadership identity, as there is no ideal identity to embrace. (This will not help me write a best selling leadership book however.)

Those that are willing to be considered leaders are those who know that leadership is constructed through actions and language, not following a set of prescribed behaviours.  They are not measuring themselves against an ideal, but constructing their own leadership reality.

This shall be demonstrated by coding themes from all 40+ interviews.

3. How communities of practice/lived experience shapes leadership identity through discourse and context.

In this section I hope to show, through coding, that common themes exist within case studies but difference emerge across case studies.  How the leadership identity within the visual arts differs from theatre (for example) and why this may be the case.

I need to return to Hammersely’s claims and conclusions, but on the side advice of my supervisor I’m focussing on what these findings mean for individuals.  In line with constructionist principles,  believe in theory for action, not theory for theory. Ideas i’m toying with*:

  • Build your community. Leadership is constructed and learned through experience within your community. Get into it. Whether you’re a solo artist or a collaborative performer. This can be done in many ways.
  • Keep doing leadership. Leadership is lived.  Whether you think you are a leader or not keep doing. It’s not a job title or a salary package.
  • What’s in a name? Does it matter if you think you’re a leader? Yes and no.  See above, keep doing leadership as it’s great.  But the more we ‘work out loud’ to show the different possibilities or forms of leadership the more individuals will realise it comes in many forms and guises. We need cultural leaders of all types.

*Seriously work in progress.

In a nutshell…

It’s six days until our move home to Melbourne.  Weirdly last week, which featured one farewell meal per day at least, was highly PhD productive.  As I may have noted previously I am focussing on my methodology for the next month or so, and last week I sat down to think epistemology.

It was exciting to realise I actually ‘get’ stuff so much more than I did a year ago.  At the end of the week I  butcher’s paper across the table and grabbed my markers to document all the key ideas I had.  I always know when I’m happy with my thinking as I use big sheets of paper and coloured pens.

Today I met with my supervisor to take her through where I’m at.  I’d sent her a chapter plan a few weeks ago (before breakthroughs) and the first thing she suggested was I change my research questions.


The thing I have been most proud off is the fact that after 2.5 years I still 100% believe in my research question.

But you know what? As often in the case, she’s probably right. My research question reflects my state of mind 2.5 years ago.  It doesn’t actually highlight where I’m going now.

That said, I have very little idea what it will be. Some idea. Just very little.

She also said I take my coloured marker thinking and turn it in to an abstract.

But it’s the methodology, not the whole thesis? I haven’t even finished all my transcription, let alone data analysis.

Maybe not a full and perfect abstract, but definitely a conceptualisation of where my thesis is headed.  This is something I had planned to do here. Last week I was just too wrecked. I see this as an iterative process, it might take 2-3 blog posts to get an abstract.

So that is coming up.

Moving forward I have fortnightly skype sessions, so discipline is being imposed.  It’s exciting though, as I feel like the rubber is hitting the road and the dominoes are beginning to fall. And other mixed metaphors/cliches.

Rethinking and plans

Second attempt.  My mother needed admin support and I exited without saving.  Idiot.

Here we are approaching the end of 2015.  Less than four weeks until we move.  I’ve completed my data collection and almost completed transcription – thanks to Olympus not upgrading their software to match the latest Mac iOS I can’t do any of that right now. Nothing like forced transcription avoidance.

Recently I met with my second supervisor. For only the second time in two years.  Despite the lack of contact when I do see her she zeros in on exactly my challenges.  She says I’m wasting my time attempting to publish or attending conferences.  I should concentrate on finishing the fucking thesis (she swears a lot) and not engage with the academic community until I know exactly what I’m talking about.

She has a point.  Clearly I have wasted a solid portion of this year in a futile attempt to get something published.  What for?  I’m not aiming for an academic job.  It’s PRIDE.

And also, I don’t really know what I’m talking about.

I know theory.  I can, hand on heart, say I’m approaching expert status on leadership theories and potentially even development.  That’s great. It helps make me a good teacher.

What I do not have, and I’ve known this all along, is a good enough grasp on methodological approaches and epistemologies.  I always feel I’m fudging this.  Consequently, as was made clear in France, I may indeed be writing a bloody consulting report. Unless I can really learn to talk the talk on my methodological approach and how I’m relating my data back to theory I will not get this done.

E2 also suggested that maybe academic publishing isn’t the way I want to go anyhow.  I’m writing about practical issues, with a desire to help the industry I study. So why aim to publish in academic journals that are not read by the industry anyhow?  Shouldn’t I be thinking about a book?

I am thinking about a book, and have been all along.  The lessons from this study on how to develop leadership capability, how leadership may be different in the creative sector and how to build a career are really valuable (in my opinion anyhow.)  So I would love turn this into a practical book.  That said I also don’t want to set my self up for a whole other avenue of failure.

The last thought she left me with is about my data approach and themes.  The big themes I wrote about in August may not actually be my big themes.  She said to write a chapter on the rejection of leadership, possibly creating a continuum of rejection, would be a valuable addition to knowledge.  With nine primary subjects, most of which who rejected the role of leader to some extent, I could see this working.

This has lead me to think about ‘leadership’ terminology in the sector.  Thinking about the role of gatekeepers and powerful organisations.  This is probably too much for this post – but it might be coming soon.

Additionally E2 said the career development approach is a good one.  And the feedback I’ve received from the journal I submitted too also said it was a worthy study.  So I may be cutting of my nose, academically, but avoiding this? But how do I bring it in without straying too far from my research question – that is the challenge.

For now this is on the back burner as it’s time to get into the nitty gritty of writing.

For the next few weeks I’m finishing 10,000 words on my context.  Maybe it’s a chapter, maybe it will become part of another chapter, but it’s an important start.

Then, over December and January I am going to nut out this methodology stuff. Really.  Once I have a practical process and an epistemological approach I’m going to set down and get into my data. Reading, rereading, coding, cutting up interviews and reading them randomly, categorising and trying to look at without blinkers.

Then from February I start rewriting my literature chapter and writing all the others.

This is the hard stuff.