Leadership, power, ethics : leading and managing in a performative culture
Williams, Richard Wynne
This thesis is a study of the experience of leadership. The aim throughout the thesis is to find ways of making sense of the idea of leadership by reference to the everyday routines of organisational life. The thesis is therefore preoccupied with the idea of "doing leadership" in the context of enacting specific job roles in organisations. Such an approach to studying leadership is in contrast with other possibilities that may be more theoretical or speculative in their view of what being in a senior leadership role in an organisation is actually like. I completed this thesis whilst working as a principal/CEO of two large inner city colleges in the tertiary sector of the UK. My thesis therefore reflects also the experience of enacting a leadership role bound up with the wider agenda of public service reform. In making sense of this context I apply and develop the idea of "performativity" as signifying a particular culture (rooted expectations, ways of working, generalised assumptions about practice) that are pervasive in public sector organisations. I explore the significance of this culture for the way in which those in leadership roles (and inter alia, their subordinates) experience identity. I suggest too that the cult of performance management makes contingent a pervasive sense of ontological insecurity for those working in political, administrative and organisational leadership roles enacted in this context. Against this background, I propose four key themes as a way of understanding what doing leadership in organisations entails: the administration of power and authority; the practice of ethics; an iconographic role of significance to others in an ongoing generalised process of identity formation; creative action. Finally, in reflecting upon the idea of leadership development, I argue that development should be understood as a movement in the emotional responsiveness (emotivity) of individuals to their situation and context. This I suggest arises from the practice of reflexivity. It is the ability to do this with rigour on the part of those in leadership roles that creates also new possibilities for an ethics of relating in organisations centred on the ideas of participation and emergence. The thesis comprises four project studies. The first is a reflective narrative account of how I came to join the DMan programme in 2002. The second explores issues of leadership relative to thinking about group processes and traditions of group analysis. The third study examines issues of identity as they emerge in the ways in which processes of power relating emerge in group interactions. The fourth study explores these same themes but in relation to the tensions that emerge in the interplay of norms and values informing human actions and conduct. The thesis includes a fifth study which focuses on issues of methodology and the significance of personal narratives of experience to a wider process of academic research. This thesis is explicitly one written by reference to a particular theoretical perspective. This perspective is best described by reference to the idea of complex responsive processes. I account for and describe this perspective in each of the project studies. It was with a view to working explicitly with this perspective that I joined the DMan programme. The work in this thesis is intended to constitute an active intellectual engagement with the idea of complex responsive processes. It is not the intention of the thesis simply to exemplify a fixed set of ideas. The thesis is therefore aiming also to be a contribution to the thinking of complex responsive processes as a set of ideas still in development. I remain committed to the view that the idea of complex responsive processes provides a powerful medium of critical ideas through which life in organisations and patterns of human relating can be understood. Whilst the thesis does not set out to justify a case for the idea of complex responsive processes, a recurrent theme is an exploration of the implications for understanding organisational life in general that arise from adopting the perspective of complex responsive processes relative to those presented by other traditions of thinking.