Past Event details

Departing from the mainstream in researching leadership in HE: Widening horizons and pushing back frontiers

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Railing against mainstream leadership research, Dennis Tourish, editor of the journal, Leadership, once complained that ‘The same sterile preoccupations dominate the [leadership] literature, in which the identification of ever more mediating processes and moderating factors takes precedence over interrogating fundamental assumptions … . Researchers seem content to ask smaller and smaller questions about fewer and fewer issues of genuine significance, producing statements of the blindingly obvious, the completely irrelevant or the palpably absurd’. This seminar is intended to offer a refreshing alternative to such ‘sterile preoccupations’. Representing a growing critical discourse that is centred around the observation that ‘leadership is a process, not a person’ (Hollander, 1992), and may even be ‘an alienating social myth’ (Gemmill & Oakley, 1992), it is aimed at encouraging people to think outside the familiar box into which they mentally consign leadership.  So if, at the mention of the word ‘leadership’, you immediately conjure up images of leaders, then this seminar will broaden your horizons. If you think academic leadership is all about heads of department, deans of faculty and pro-vice-chancellors, collectively, the seminar’s three papers will offer alternative perspectives. Prepare to see further, think differently – and contribute your own views!

Speakers and titles:

Shifting the leader(ship) off centre-stage: A critical and alternative exploration of leadership ontologies 

Dr Howard Youngs, Auckland University of Technology (AUT), New Zealand.

Setting the scene for the papers in this seminar, Howard Youngs critiques the development of leader-centrism and distributed leadership in terms of ontology, global marketization, and understanding practice. Both forms of leadership have undergone managerial and product-based capture where their good has tended to become an unquestioned ‘golden chalice’ of improvement and reform. The resultant standardised and mainstream environment can stymie alternative perspectives that do not reify leadership as the one practice that holds all other practices together. Addressing this issue of reification is not straightforward due to the double bind created when questioning norms of the leadership industry and hierarchical structures that in themselves protect mainstream views. Distributed and collaborative leadership are possible alternatives, however Dr Youngs in his research of practice in performative environments, has found these do not go far enough. A shift at the ontological level is required and this involves looking beyond the leadership field if we are pushing back frontiers of knowledge. Drawing on a socio-cultural perspective and practice theory, he will discuss one alternative ontology, Leadership-As-Practice (L-A-P), which challenges the orthodoxy of leader, followers, and goals. Using his review of research studies of distributed forms of leadership and recently published critique of academic leadership, he will discuss how L-A-P can contribute to a more critical perspective of leadership, in terms of research, postgraduate supervision, collective practice, and faculty development. 

Unscheduled stops on a journey into leadership territory: conceptualisation, categorisation, and criticality

Professor Linda Evans,University of Manchester

In 2012 Linda Evans embarked on what she thought would be a straightforward journey into academic leadership territory. Funded to research university professors as academic leaders – both their own perspectives and those of ‘the led’ (the non-professorial academics to whom professors were expected to provide academic leadership) – she found herself diverted onto side paths and delving deeper and deeper in seldom-explored passages below a landscape whose familiar features are seldom scrutinised in any detail. She ended up in Critical Leadership Territory, where, finding much that she liked but that was unfamiliar, she had to quickly learn its language, map out her position in relation to her surroundings, and secure herself a pied à terre. From there, she ended up waist-deep in what one of the locals calls the ‘quagmire’ of conceptual confusion that muddies the field of leadership – and that some pioneering explorers have dismissed as a myth, while others have exposed it as variously much less, or much more, populated than is generally thought. The highlights of this journey, and where it has so far taken Professor Evans – including an exploration of ‘ledness’, an excavation of the ‘basic unit’ of leadership, and the discovery that distributed leadership is not what most people think it is - are conveyed through a selection of her snapshots of these largely unchartered lands deep below the surface of the place we know as Leadership in Higher Education.


Exploring leadership in a ‘leaderless’ team: The case of distributed leadership in HE

Drs Stephanie Schnurr* and Seongsook Choi, University of Warwick and University of Edinburgh 

This paper has two aims: 1) to challenge heroic notions of leadership by questioning the assumption that ‘leader equals leadership’, and 2) to illustrate some of the benefits of a discourse analytical approach to analysing leadership practice in situ on the micro-level of interaction. In order to achieve these aims, Dr Schnurr will explore how leadership is done in a ‘leaderless’ team in the context of UK HE. Drawing on a corpus of more than 120 hours of audio-recorded meetings of different interdisciplinary research groups in UK HE and using a discourse analytic framework and tools, she shows distributed leadership in action. Illustrating some of the discursive processes through which leadership is accomplished in this team – especially when solving disagreements and negotiating consensus – she argues that although the team does not have an official ‘leader’, there is nevertheless a lot of leadership taking place.

*Dr Schnurr will present on behalf of both authors.

Network: SRHE Event
Date(s): Wednesday, 18 October 2017
Times: 11:30 - 16:15
Location: SRHE, 73 Collier St, London N1 9BE
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Dr Howard Youngs, Auckland University of Technology (AUT), New Zealand.
Shifting the leader(ship) off centre-stage: A critical and alternative exploration of leadership ontologies
Prof Linda Evans
Unscheduled stops on a journey into leadership territory: conceptualisation, categorisation, and criticality
Drs Stephanie Schnurr and Seongsook Choi
Exploring leadership in a ‘leaderless’ team: The case of distributed leadership in HE
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