Where leadership resides in my thesis

My research question is “How do practitioners in the Australian creative industries develop their leadership skills? And what is their relationship to leadership?”  Clearly leadership is central to the whole shebang, but where it actually resides is becoming less clear to me.

If you’ve read my themes, posted through August, there was little talk about leadership within it. It was more about environment and how this influenced communities of practice and learning.  The current paper I’m writing on is a bit the same.  Leadership has been lost a little through the cracks. I’m wondering if this is a mistake on my behalf, as the idea of defining a creative industries based concept of leadership has always been in the back of my head (aligned to the idea of a book post PhD.)

I’m currently transcribing an interview conducted in Melbourne in August.  And it specifically brings up a leadership idea that I haven’t touched on: the idea of the organisational/taste gatekeeper. The positions of power in the arts scene that control most of the power, often most of the money. My interview subject talks about how power lists published in the press always show the same people, often related, often married, who all come from the same schools. There’s a perception that if you “didn’t go to Scotch and play the cello” you want get the key fellowships (and by extension jobs and positions of power.

While I don’t want to swell on gatekeepers as subjects, and I don’t think I have many in my subjects (maybe one or two) I am talking to a lot of those who are bouncing up against them.

The same interviewee says that those who are emerging are doing something exciting, they are playing in the spaces between organisations and power. The operate in the margins, and they demonstrate the power of networks and distributed leadership.  This is something I have seen, even in organisational practice (like theatre.)

My comparison between visual arts and theatre, the subject of my current conference paper, may not only demonstrate the power of environment to shape leadership identity (I argue theatre practitioners lean toward a distributed concept of leadership given their collaborative approach while visual arts people tend to have a more hierarchical old school view) but also show how networked leadership evolves amongst some (theatre) but maybe not so much in visual arts  – where the gatekeepers are strong and prominent.  Or, and I’m ‘typing out loud’ here, the networked leaders in visual arts are not yet seeing the power of what they do, or calling it leadership, in the shadow of the gatekeepers?

Either way I need to ensure that the definition of leadership doesn’t get lost in the learning concepts.