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.


Research statement de ja vu

Another day, another post about shaping my research statement.

I’m technically editing my literature review today.  Paragraph by paragraph editing to send through a slightly shorter (now about 11,500 words) draft to my supervisor on Friday.  But it’s hard when your opening still doesn’t really reflect a research statement or question that I am 100% happy with. In particular with a questions that focusses on the mechanisms creative workers use to create leadership identity I am still discussing the how question.  While that is part of the thesis, the my first discussion chapter, that I alluded to yesterday, if actually about reluctant leadership.  Nothing to do with how, but more about what and why.

So I came across a book chapter shared on twitter that shows a slightly different structure, and I thought I’d give that a try.

My topic: The topic I am exploring is the development of leadership identity in the Australian creative industries.

My research problem:   As the creative industries has become a more visible contributor to the Australian economy there has been a renewed discussion about the importance of leadership within the sector.  While the question of what constitutes effective arts and creative leadership has been discussed both theoretically and in the media, there is little understanding about how creative leaders develop their leadership identity. This research aims to explore how emerging leaders shape their leadership identity and the relationship they have to the concept of leadership.

My purpose: The purpose of this research is to explore the formation of leadership identity in 9 sectors within the Australian creative industries to understand the influences that shape this development.

My research questions:

  • What mechanisms are used by creative workers in Australia to develop their leadership identity?
  • What role does context have in shaping leadership identity within the Australian creative industries?
  • What relationship do emerging leaders in the Australian creative industries have to the concept of leadership?

I actually prefer this to trying to write one singular research question, though I’m concerned the last question is too broad – what I’m really exploring is the reluctance to be seen as a leader. Maybe is should be something like: What factors influence a reluctance among emerging creative industries leaders to embrace the title of leader?

OK, back to editing.


Chugging along

I’ve just finished week two of my newly instigated work plan and it’s worth taking some time to reflect on the experience to date.  Like many weeks within a PhD it’s been the topsy-turvy, rollercoaster of emotions and sometimes you just want to lie down and not get up again.

On the positive side I am really enjoying my new job.  I’ve made a few mistakes, as you do, but when you have the huge monolithic PhD process hanging over your head you learn that saying the wrong thing to a team member is not something you can sweat over for long.  Perspective, it’s a beautiful thing.  The fact I have two mid-week days away from the house, interacting with others in a creative space, but one that doesn’t relate to my PhD topic, is both exhausting and energising.  It made me realise that as much as I loved teaching, the fact I taught subjects so close to my PhD meant I never took any thinking time away from my research and this probably made me less productive.  I will admit that I’ve tended to collapse on the one ‘free’ day I now have, falling asleep on the couch out of sheer exhaustion.  This has been exacerbated by the fact I seem to have developed insomnia at night – yay me.  So while it’s a tad physically challenging it’s also been good for my productivity. With less time to mess around there has been indeed less messing around and my writing days have been very business like.

I’ve achieved what I had hoped in the last two weeks, though I’m struggling to reduce my literature review sections to the word count I wanted.  I’ve also begun what feels like the 756th draft of a journal article. My quest for publication is starting to take on Twilight Zone like qualities where I’m trapped in a never-ending cycle of writing and editing the same document in different ways. Maybe Groundhog Day  is a better analogy.

Publication struggles brings up the issue of peer comparison.  I met up with a friend from UTS, though in a different area, last week who showed surprise at my not yet having undertaken then stage 2 assessment process, but who has recently had a) a journal article under review and b) two book chapters in the works.

What was that about lying on the floor and not getting up?

From a thesis perspective she is yet to start writing.  I’m left with the feeling of complete inadequacy mixed with the comfort of knowing I’ve written about 30,000 words of my actual thesis. But nothing I’ve done in three years is technically finished.

Which led to a small meltdown over the fact that maybe I’m not intellectually capable of finishing an academic piece of writing.  Work ethic, check.  Motivation, sure.  But what if I am not actually good enough?  Now this is not impostor syndrome, because impostor syndrome implies you’re doing something but you don’t feel worthy of doing it.  Technically I haven’t actually DONE anything.  At this stage the whole ‘fake it until you make it’ thing feels like a step up.

My ever wise supervisor has a different perspective.  And while I didn’t come out and ask “do you think I’m too dumb to complete this PhD?” I did ask that if I was in trouble would she tell me*.  She takes the view that there’s lot of writing coagulating (and I like that word) and that it will all come together on mass near the end.  Which does sound like what’s happening.  I do have four chapters at between 50 – 75% right now.  And it does align to my briefly met second supervisor who says “just write the best f-ing thesis possible and THEN worry about publishing.” All good but there’s no validation along the way that helps you believe you can actually do this.

Then today I met with a twitter friend who I’ve been engaging with for what seems like years but never met.  We got talking about what’s needed in art schools from a careers perspective and she said that where she works needs a cross-disciplinary subject on career/leadership capabilities.  HELLO? This is exactly what I do and want to do post-PhD.  I just need to convince the institutions of the relevancy.

The post PhD future seems to be hurtling toward me. I do hope I can keep this job longer than the initial 6-month period, but I know the decision is not in my hands.  But that is not going to be enough to live on, financially and intellectually.  I was very pleased to receive an invitation to apply to the Australia Council for the Arts preferred provider panel on leadership facilitation, this could be not only great fun but a nice supplement to the income.  While my long-held plans involved a book on leadership in the creative industries the horror that is writing the thesis means I may never want to put fingers to keyboard again.

For now I’ll keep chugging along.  Write my weekly target, redraft my journal article again and again, go to yoga, cycle to dance class and keep inspecting unaffordable real estate. Life, just live it.


*She said yes.

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.


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.

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.

End of part 1 2015

Well it’s been an interesting first semester. I’m tying up loose end at the moment, getting ready to head off to AIMAC 2015 in Aix-en-Provence next week.  While my presentation is prepared I haven’t even started my notes, which is sort of a worry but not really as I never use notes anyhow.

But this trip signals the end of a pretty good 6 months.  As far as my goals are concerns, here is the output:

1. I published on The Conversation in May and ArtsHub this week.

2. I’ve now completed 32 interviews AND transcribed them all. (Phew)

3. I sent off my paper “Career development through communities of practice in the South Australian Theatre sector” to a journal a few weeks ago, but no response to date (deadline for submission was June 30.)

4. I’ll present next week at a conference (see above.)

5. I’ve developed the content, and had it approved, for the new Cultural and Creative Industries leadership course at UNSW Art & Design.

I’m pretty happy with that outcome.  It’s been a strange semester, a little solitary compared to last year. Not as much engagement with my cohort.  Though UTS researcher development has continued to be outstanding.

Next semester I hope to achieve the following:

1. Conduct another 20-25 interviews and transcribe them. (With a focus on profit-making creative areas and MEN.) Already scheduled a week in Melbourne for two groups in August.

2. Deliver potentially my last teaching semester at UNSW (more on that to follow.)  This will be a new experience as I have lectures and tutorials this semester as opposed to just seminars.  And I have to brief tutors, when we confirm them!

3. Start writing my actual thesis.  I was going to aim for another journal article, as I have an idea brewing, but I want to see what happens with this one yet as there will be at least revisions or at most a complete rewrite for a new journal.  May keep my idea for 2016 and concentrate on writing the contextual chapter of my thesis.

4. Another piece for The Conversation and Arts Hub.  ArtsHub is not challenging to publish in, so that’s not an issue, but the The Conversation carries a bit more weight. Will depend on issues in the sector.

5. I’d like to give one sort of professional talk this year, through an arts organisation or event.

If I achieve all of this I will feel 2015 has been academically/professionally successful.

The big news, however, is that we are moving back to Melbourne.  Our apartment is up for sale and goes to auction in September. With a 90 day settlement it means we will be resettling in Melbourne in late November/early December.  This is HUGE. We made the decision in January, but to actually go through with it….well it’s an adjustment.  I’ve lived in this apartment longer than any other place in my life (I moved around a lot.)  And to be technically ‘homeless’ while we try to find a rental in Melbourne (with a dog) is a bit scary. But the time is right, and I can continue my PhD journey from a new locale in 2016. (No need to change Universities as I am spending next year writing anyhow, and will fly up for researcher development.)  I may be giving up/losing the amazing teaching opportunity I have had at UNSW Art & Design, but they have suggested we turn the leadership course into an intensive, which would be brilliant for me.

So I’m taking a couple of weeks away as of now (sort of, next week is all conference, then I have a week of holiday in Hong Kong) before I get stuck back into the second half of the year in mid-July.

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.