What does reluctancy look like


I’ve started examining my answers to the question “Do you consider yourself a leader?” I’m trying to create a visual representation of the key themes expressed by my central participants, as shown above.  I have a long way to go clearly.

What is interesting, however, is the logic behind some of these statements, there’s almost a spectrum of reasons behind the reluctancy. I’ve tried to demonstrate the breadth of issues by examining key statements in the table below.

Discipline Key statement Reasoning
Media and Events “Yes, absolutely” Only unequivocal answer
Theatre “I consider myself a collaborative leader” Not a ‘boss’


Music “I feel kind of sheepish saying I’m a leader, god no man would say that.”

“It’s an outward expression of ambition that makes me uncomfortable.”



Advertising “I’m a reluctant leader”

“Winning stuff means you back yourself”

“I think I’m already doing it, I just don’t recognise it.”



Digital Design “I consider myself a leader…in my formative years”

“Within my discipline I am, not a business leader”

“I still feel like a kid in the room”


Impostor syndrome

Disciplinary boundaries



“I’m working on it”

“I have the capacity”

“I’ve done the learning, but I’m not leading.”



Visual arts “In some ways I do, I advocate, champion, comment”

“But I’m not senior enough”

“I don’t feel paternal”





Film “Yeah I think I do now”

“Not on set as I don’t make films that often”

“I feel I have a voice out of proportion with what I’m actually doing”

Unearned reputation





“I don’t want to be up myself”

“I’m gaining traction, I see my influence and inspiration and I think maybe I am”

“I want to remain humble and not be a maniac”

Tall poppy syndrome


There’s no gender correlation to willingness to embrace leadership identity, but one female participant did acknowledge that a man would less likely to demonstrate reluctance.  Those outside Melbourne and Sydney were more willing to be seen as leaders, and I wonder if the sometimes supportive nature of smaller arts communities influences this, but I suspect it actually has to do with the strong communities of practice these subjects work within.

Lots to play with here.


The reluctant creative leader

This week I’m on editing duty.  I have a literature review that is over 13,500 words that really needs to be done under 11,000.  Kill your darlings time.

But mentally I’m already moving forward onto my first data chapters.  I’m thinking out loud her on whether I take an issues based approach or a data analysis approach.  The latter is more a case of

  1. Presentation of data
  2. Compare and contrast case studies
  3. Discussion of results.

And while this feels well structured it also feels like a quantitative approach.

Given my research is about the social construction of leadership identity and how that is reflected in the narratives of my subjects it makes more sense to me to take an issues based approach, where I use my data to tell a story.

I’m planning on discussing with with my supervisor Friday and as of next Monday we start writing.  This is the big month.  Once I get this first data chapter locked down I feel that a) I’m be ready to present stage two and b) I’ll be really on my way toward the finish line.  Of course the fact I need three issues to discuss, not one, is weighing on me.  I don’t really feel as strongly about the other emerging themes as I do about the reluctant leader.

So what is the reluctant creative leader?

In this first issue chapter I want to explore the answers my 9 emerging leaders gave to the question “Are you a leader?”  Those who’ve read this blog for a while know that almost none of the nine answered the question straight out, only one said an unequivocal yes. The rest said versions of “yes, but…” or “not yet” or “no”.

My exploration of this issue then will relate these narratives back to four questions:

  1. How are they demonstrating reluctance?
  2. What leadership theories are they alluding to in their narratives? i.e. what does their answer tell me about what they think leadership is.
  3. How does their answer relate to development they’ve undertaken? Is there a relationship between participation in leadership development, either through interventions or communities of practice and a willingness to be seen as a leader?
  4. How do their answers relate to identity theories? Is this just a ‘stage’ they are going through in line with leader identity theory? Are they critically rejecting constructed notions of leadership? Is this a case of comparison to exemplars or others?

I think there’s enough in there to create a fairly weighty chapter.  What I think I need to be considering though are the claims and conclusions in line with Martin Hammersley’s framework discussed here.

Without giving the game away, and having not yet written anything, I’m thinking about the the reluctant creative leader is one that rejects the notion of leadership based on the socially constructed definition they see reflected in their organisational experience and media representations. But reluctance extends to only the wearing of the label, not the doing of leadership, and in doing so they are constructing their own versions of what a leader is.

I’m excited about this though, I’ve been building up the data chapters in my head as some sort of insurmountable task, the moment I really prove that I’m not up to this.  But by using a systematic approach I think I can argue something worthwhile.

Critical Leadership – Alvesson (#2)

Alvesson, M. & Spicer, A. 2012, ‘Critical leadership studies: The case for critical performativity’, Human Relations, vol. 65, no. 3, pp. 367-90.

Alvesson and Spicer argue that existing leadership studies are underpinned by functional approaches, which identify variables associated with leadership and try to identify correlations, and interpretive which trace out meaning making associated with leadership.  They turn from both of these to take a more critical approach. “We posit a performative critique of leadership that emphasizes tactics of circumspect care, progressive pragmatism and searching for present potentialities. ” (367)

“However, placing a messianic faith in leaders and leadership needs to be critically addressed. ” (368)  The authors’ argue a suspicious engagement needs to be held with leadership studies.  This is not a completely negative approach, however, with the “emancipatory potential” of leadership theory recognised within the limits of leadership.

Their critique of leadership offers three elements:

  • Moving beyond the naive celebrations of leadership, and interpretive studies, and not taking leadership for granted, which includes articulation of a more limited approach to leadership aligned to emancipatory goals.
  • To move beyond existing critical studies that have a negative view of leadership based on domination.
  • To foster further studies of leadership within the contemporary organisational context.

How do they do this:

  1. By tracing out existing functionalist and interpretive approaches.
  2. Turning to critical analysis of control, resistance and ideology.
  3.  Supplementing the agenda through a performative critique. Using this notion to suggest the concept of deliberated leadership.

Functionalist approaches

Functionalism assumes leadership is objective and can be understood scientifically.  Sees leadership as a stable object that can be tracked. Studies have sought to identify the traits associated with leadership – like physical and psychological characteristics. (370) They also include behavioural analysis and the situation in which leadership takes place. In more recent time focus has shifted from the leader to the role of the follower.

Functionalism was the dominant approach to leadership studies for a considerable period. There was an assumption leadership was coherent and distinct. There are weaknesses to this approach, however, in that researchers are now noting leadership may be ambiguous and related to individual perception, that the focus in on ‘doing leadership’ so it can be measured, rather than leadership as a concept, and that different actors may see leadership differently. (370)

These doubts with the functional approach have lead researchers to look for at interpretive views of leadership, examining how those leading and being led perceive.

Interpretive assumptions

Leadership being examined as a socially constructed concept with the agents involved defining meaning (372). Methodological approaches may involve looking an linguistics and understanding process in the frame of reality. Interpretive shares the following assumptions:

“Ontologically, leadership is thought to be constructed through an ongoing processes of inter-subjective understanding. Epistemologically, leadership is a process that can only be accessed through examining these value-laden understandings and interpretations that actors use to understand leadership. Many interpretive studies seek to surface different understandings of leadership in the hope of supporting the creation of increased shared meaning.” (372)

Interpretive opens up the idea that leadership is constructed but relies on the respondents view of leadership. The authors’ argue there are strong ideological and social forces behind the idea to see oneself as ‘leader.’  In addition, they argue interpretive studies ignore power and domination.

“To put this another way, interpretive studies of leadership do not allow us to get at the underpinning social structures that mean one person can be assigned a leadership role while another becomes a follower (Ford et al., 2008). Rather, they only try to get as close as possible to the meanings, experiences and/or language use of people involved and tend to accept rather than critically explore these.” (373)

Critical assumptions

Critical researchers go beyond interpretive approaches by not just looking at the social constructs, but also the patters of power and domination associated with leadership and relate this to broader ideological and institutional settings.

Feminism studies is linked in here by examining male domination and gendered notions of leadership. All writers in this space question the authority and power associated with leadership and position it as a potential negative. Examinations of language and the heroic constructs are linked tot he concept of moral superiority.

Critically, these areas can overstate the relevancy of leadership. (374-5.) Alvesson and Spicer also argue that attempts to reject leadership actually require a form of leadership in itself. (375)

A critical performative approach to leadership

“Broadly put, critical performativity seeks to introduce ‘a more affirmative movement along-side the negative movement that seems to predominate in CMS today’ (Spicer et al., 2009: 538). It is critical because it radically questions widely accepted assumptions and aims to minimize domination. It is performative as it opens up new ways of understanding and engaging with the discourse with the ambition to have some effects on practice.” (376)

The authors suggest a range of tactics to consider critical performative approaches:

  • Circumspect care: care for the views of those actually undertaking/doing leadership and how they engage in the process (rather than researcher views.) (375) Taking them seriously but also challenging their views.
  • Progressive pragmatism: pragmatically, but critically, working within current disciplines. (376)
  • Present potentialities: moving beyond a critique of present theories to create a sense of what could be. (377)

“We hope that a critical performative approach will lead us to recognize how leadership, in many work contexts, is better seen as an infrequent, temporal, situation-specific dynamic than a permanent state in the relationship.” (381)

They argue that dismissing leadership may strengthen it. It is better to recognise the challenges faced by managers, and study them. Also that leadership may not just reinforce authority structures – but question them. (382)

“An important thing here is that a critical performative approach to leadership would encourage the consideration and reinforcement of alternatives to leadership such as various modes of ‘co-operation’ (Stohl and Cheeney, 2001), ‘collaborative communities’ (Adler and Heckscher, 2006) and ‘peer reviewing’ (Rennstam, 2007). This would encourage balancing and switching between leadership and other measures of coordination. ” (383)

They link these ideas to the democratisation of leadership.  Both “hybridtise” the idea of leadership splicing together different forms of coordination. (383)

Why this article is useful

Firstly the review of functional, interpretive and critical which could form a basis for the review of leadership within my literature review.  But also ideas of what going beyond these.

Thinking about leadership

The universe clearly heard me yesterday regarding my dedication to write 500+ words.  Last night I got to bed at 1am after an outing went quite a bit longer than expected, and before my 8am meeting I slipped (which you will find I do quite a lot) while chasing a runaway dog and smashed my head into a metal fence.  It’s like “you think you can write? Well try writing after THIS.” (I surprisingly feel OK, but my 6 hour work target is looking shaky.)

My literature review can be divided evenly into two sections:

  • What is leadership?
  • How do we develop leaders?

Neither of those sections are particularly small from a literature perspective, though the first is probably more daunting that the second.

In each case there is a sub question?

  • What is leadership in the creative industries?
  • How have we developed leaders in the creative industries?

In both cases there may be a hypothesis that a) leadership IS different in the creative industries (as compared to other industries) and that b) leaders have developed differently.  There’s lot of other questions there too but I will come to those in later posts.

And then there is the question of what do I mean by the ‘creative industries’?  Many of the theses I have read focuses on the arts more specifically, than the broader creative industries.  Surely that would be easier. But my gut feeling is I want this to be positioned within the larger economic paradigm.

I like this diagram, as outlined by David Throsby, font of all economic knowledge of the creative industries (which I sourced from artshub.co.uk.)

Arts economy

I may be making a rod for my own back, but examining the four circles seems like the work will be more useable? When you realise only three people read your thesis this seem to be redundant, but anyhow.

Putting that aside for the time being, I want to think though the concepts of leadership and the areas I want to cover.

Last year I wrote 10,000 words on leadership theories when I was starting with an MPhil.  No one has read them, including me. They may not be good, but they might be useful.  The structure is:

What is leadership?

The section starts with a short discussion about why leadership is important to study. There are over 7,000 texts, in one author’s preliminary search, written on leadership so clearly some people, albeit academics and popular writers who want to sell books, see it as important.  There are studies on how leadership impacts organisations, or doesn’t impact organisations, and plenty of research on how leadership affects individuals and society.  This is not necessarily all from a positive perspective as there are plenty of negative connotations associated with the concept.

Leadership is also important from a creative industries perspective, and the reasons are twofold.  Firstly, if the creative industries are to have a continued impact on the economy (and it is estimated that more people work in these industries than in agriculture and mining) then good leadership may (note the may) contribute to success.  Secondly, business leaders have been looking toward the creative industries for a couple of decades, and even more so post GFC, to address their own gaps in leadership capacity.  The metaphor of artist as business leader is alive and well – orchestra conductors, theatre directors and visual artists are all seen as an analogy for the successful organisational leader.

But little has been done to look at creative leaders themselves, though this is changing.  Arts management, or arts administration (a phrase I loathe) is a growing academic discipline but arts leadership is still relatively new.  I have my thoughts on why that is but I shall save that for another day.  In addition to this, even less research has been done on how creatives developed their leadership capability, hence my interest. There’s a gap that can be filled here that is useful from an academic perspective but also from a practical disciplinary perspective.  If we gain perspective on how to develop leaders, maybe we can put this into practice. As someone who has worked in the industry, with some terrible experiences, I can see a need for this.

Now it is time to get into the theories, which was the point of this post before I rambled.   This is the information I’m trying to sort out in my head.

My initial writing broke leadership theory down into:

  • Trait and Behavioural
  • Contingency and Situational
  • Change Theory
  • Transactional, Transformational and Charismatic.

Then a second section on leadership theories with a particular creative industries alignment:

  • Leadership outside the organisational context (particularly important for me)
  • Not for profit leadership
  • Social Movement leadership
  • Leadership and Creativity (or leading for creativity) and one of innovation (to combine I think)
  • Co or dual leadership
  • Orchestra conductors (which seemed to require a section on their own)
  • Shared or self leadership

With some conclusions drawn at the end.

Reflecting on this I am not horrified, but I feel that a) I haven’t gone into the depths I need in each of these sections, b) there are gaps that I can see from more reading and that my supervisors are pointing out from a theory perspective and c) I need to organise the categories in a more cohesive and relevant way.

Importantly, I need to keep in my mind  am not writing and exhaustive history of all leadership theory. This is a salient detail I only realised while reading Jo Caust’s thesis on leadership in Adelaide arts organisations (which is excellent.) I need to position the theories I review in the context that they are relevant to the discussion on the creative industries I am having.  Why didn’t I think this months ago?

So where I am I now? I have all the information outlined above, plus a mind map of questions I have been writing to myself over the past month.

What is leadership (in the arts)-


Yes it is hard to read.  Even harder to untangle mentally.

I want to find the best structure for the section on leadership, and then ensure that all the questions I’m thinking about are covered within the defined categories.  And then map all my literature that I’m reading to the relevant areas.  I know HOW to do this, thanks to a great UTS workshop, but I haven’t even contemplating STARTING this.

So the two ways of categorising I’m thinking about are:

Idea one

  • Functional
  • Relationship
  • Critical

With Critical being the new sections of more recent work.  I’m not 100% sure everything fits neatly though.

Idea two

This is the structure used by Keith Grint in his cute little book I read while walking my dog, Leadership: A Very Short Introduction

  • Leadership as position
  • Leadership as a person
  • Leadership as a result
  • Leadership as a process

These category definitions may align better to my mind map, but not sure if I can slot all the theories in nicely.

I’ll wrap up here.  As maybe I’m even avoiding reading by writing today (a miracle.)