Making Sense of Leadership Development: Reflections on my Role as a Leader of Leadership Development Interventions
Flinn, Kevin Paul
This thesis examines my experience of leading leadership development. During the last three years I have been researching my role as Head of Leadership and Organisational Development at the University of Hertfordshire (UH), with a view to making sense of and rethinking leadership and approaches to leadership development more generally. This thesis considers how my own thinking and practice has changed and developed as a consequence of paying attention to and reflecting on personal experience, whilst at the same time locating my sense-making in the broader academic scholarship. Narrative accounts of the significant incidents and interactions that I have participated in during the past three years have been shared verbally with the participants on the programmes that I lead, and explored more extensively in written form with colleagues in the learning community on the Doctorate in Management (DMan) programme at UH, as a means of intensifying my sense-making and its generalisability to a community of engaged enquirers. My research was prompted by disillusionment with the dominant discourse on leadership and leadership development based as it is on theories, frameworks, tools and techniques that privilege a form of autonomous, instrumental rationality and deceptive certainty that did not reflect the social, non-linear, uncertain day-to-day realities faced by me and the managers with whom I worked. In this thesis, I draw on my experiences as a manager, leader of leadership development, and a student of leadership development, to problematise the mainstream managerialist conceptions of leadership and organisation that are now part of the organisational habitus (Bourdieu, 1977) in the UK. The rise and naturalisation of managerialist ideology across the private, public, and charitable sectors in the UK makes it an inordinately difficult perspective to contest without risking some form of exclusion. I contend that my experience of attempting to encourage radical doubt and enquiry rather than the mindless acceptance and application of conventional wisdom contributes to knowledge in the field of leadership and organisational development by providing insight into and an alternative way of thinking about and practising leadership and leadership development. In contesting dominant conceptions, I proffer a more reality congruent alternative to mainstream thought. I draw on the perspective of complex responsive processes of relating (Stacey et al, 2000, Griffin, 2002, Shaw, 2002), critical management studies (Alvesson and Willmott, 1996), social constructionism (Berger et al, 1966), and other thinkers critical of managerialist conceptions of leadership and leadership education (Khurana, 2007) to explore leadership as a social, relational activity where leaders are co-participants, albeit highly influential ones, in the ongoing patterning of relationships that constitute organisation. However, I argue that it is insufficient for management educationalists to snipe critically at managerialism from the sidelines, problematising one perspective and simply replacing it with another (Ford et al, 2007), leaving their participants ill-equipped to navigate the potentially destructive political landscape of day-to-day organisational life. While the dominant discourse on leadership and organisation is flawed, to avoid exclusion managers must still become fluent in the language and practice of managerialism, the ideology that has come to dominate the vast majority of organisational communities in which they find themselves. In this thesis, I argue that it is crucial for managers and leaders of leadership development to engage with a polyphony of perspectives, and develop the reflective and reflexive capacity to continuously explore and answer for themselves the questions who am I, and what am I doing, who are we, and what are we doing?