Leadership-as-communicative-practice : transforming situations through talk and text

  • Linda Buchan

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

Abstract

The dominant concept of leadership among academics and practitioners foregrounds individual leaders and views leadership as a ‘thing’ that can be discovered. However, there is growing scholarly consensus that we need to challenge the assumptions that underpin traditional leadership theories and engage more effectively with the lived experience of leadership. This thesis responds to the call to consider leadership from different perspectives by applying the lens of process philosophy to leadership-as-practice (LAP), an emergent stream of research that has the potential to deepen our understanding of the dynamic nature of leadership as it is accomplished in everyday activities. To extend the existing understanding of LAP grounded in a process ontology, this thesis brings together two complementary Pragmatist informed theoretical perspectives: the performative theory of organizational communication developed by communicative constitution of organization (CCO) scholars; and John Dewey’s theory of Inquiry. The concept of leadership-as-communicative-practice (LACP) proposes that leadership emerges in response to ambiguity and uncertainty and is a social and material process that transforms situations. This transformative change is accomplished through the complex entanglement of conversation and written texts. To explore LACP empirically, a nine-month immersive study was undertaken in a Scottish Health and Social Care Partnership. Through attending designated ‘leadership’ meetings, two issues emerged that were causing tension within the organization and necessitating leadership. These two situations were then shadowed as they unfolded. The emergent leadership movements within each situation were analysed using two co-productive lenses: Inquiry and co-orientation.Analysing turns in conversations suggested that co-orientation occurred across multiple timeframes, was characterized by dissent as well as consensus, and enabled the talking out of issues, relational dynamics and the discovery of new insights into the situation. Moreover, the findings highlighted the contribution of documents in carrying the almost imperceptible movements generated through co-orientation through time and space to transform situations. The study not only adds to the theoretical and empirical understanding of processual LAP, but also provides new insights into the challenges of studying leadership as an unfolding phenomenon. Specifically, shadowing situations is offered as an extension to the organizational shadowing literature that engages with the need for more mobile methods. LACP provides an alternative to the dominant leadership concept within organizations and lays the foundation for new approaches to developing leadership that attend to the processual, communicative dynamics of leadership practice.
Date of Award31 May 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University Of Strathclyde
SponsorsUniversity of Strathclyde
SupervisorBarbara Simpson (Supervisor) & Dora Scholarios (Supervisor)

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