Dilemmas for Doctoral candidates

October 4, 2014

Doctoral candidates face the two challenges of making a contribution to knowledge and of defending their claims against the toughest of scrutiny. The methodology of conceptual mapping and examination of dilemmas offers an additional research approach

The principles were outlined in 2006 in the first edition of the book Dilemmas of Leadership, a post-graduate teaching text. An earlier LWD post gives a brief overview.

The approach

The approach draws on a social constructional treatment of knowledge generation and validity testing. In its initial use, it was offered to business executives to assist in their evaluation of leadership texts. In this post, it illustrates a way of simplifying the epistemology offered on doctoral courses in business and the social sciences. In its earlier application, executive MBA students are encouraged to study emerging leadership news stories, deriving a conceptual map from each. This ‘map reading’, like any life skill, improves with active and regular practice. ‘Map-testing’ includes processes found in research methods courses for investigating the reliability of the information and its validity. These two processes feed into the third, in which the derived and tested maps of a story are examined and compared with the personal map of the student. This process permits personal and experiential learning. Termed ‘map making’ this is the revised map of the student beliefs about leadership for personal reflection and class discussion.

Beyond the basic system A range of additional procedures are introduced to support the basic system. These include a search for dilemmas as significant hard-to-resolve decisions confronting the actors in the stories, these include the personal dilemmas for the student (‘the most important leader you study is yourself’).

Extending the process to doctoral research The process offers possibilities for modification for direct application in research studies even at the level of doctoral investigations. A workshop opportunity has arisen which will be reported here in a future post.

Update for Doctoral students The brief for the doctoral workshop was The Evolution of Leadership and Management and its links with Theories of Organisation: Bringing it all together. The syllabus indicated that the workshop follows the student’s journey through different perspectives on organisation and management theory (modernism, scientific management & Bureaucracy); neo-modernism (human relations and culture management); critical perspectives; postmodernist organisation theory). Students were advised to revise these topics to be prepared for discussion at the workshop.

Further updates

Further updates will report on the workshop and add discussion points from subscribers.

October 24th 2014

An illustration of the mapping approach applied to a leadership text which asks the question ‘are managers sacked for breaking the rules and leaders sacked for not breaking them?’

November 1st, 2014

Bridging the gap between the empirical and the social

One substantial difficulty for doctoral students is the gulf between the methods of enquiry in the empirical sciences and the social sciences. The former retains the methodology of the dominant rational model. This perspective is one I acquired in my schooldays and have retained as a technical manager trained to examine technical and economic problems through the methodology of scientific inquiry.

My attraction to a second approach involving the methodology of the social sciences grew, as I became familiar with the ideas of the social construction of reality. Nevertheless, I felt that moving completely from a scientific to a social scientific approach was likely to be switching from one horn of a dilemma to another.

November 3rd 2014

Two authors helped me find a way of bridging the gap.

The first was Professor Gail Fairhurst in her book Discursive Leadership in which she shows how social constructionist approaches are able to co-exist successfully with the more dominant model of cognitive psychology.

The second insight came from the work into what Jim Collins called ‘the  Genius of the And’.  Fairhurst and Collins had in quite different ways addressed a way of dealing with dilemmas. In each case, the approach was a form of creativity to escape from ‘either-or’ thinking.  The outcome is a bridging of the gap between the dominant rational model of the sciences and the social constructionist approach of the social scientist

January 5th 2015

This leadership case is a nice way to test understanding of ways of applying a qualitative analysis

Government Minister says definition of child poverty is flawed. What does that mean?

November 15, 2012

David Laws speaking on behalf of the Government says that the definition of Child Poverty is flawed and needs changing. But to understand what he means you need a ‘map’ about the nature of definitions

Tudor Rickards

The Government Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith will say in a speech today [15th Nov 2012] that simply focusing on income levels is too narrow and other factors should be considered.

The newly appointed Schools Minister David Laws added:

“Traditionally we have defined poverty simply by income. But this is not enough. The experience of child poverty is about more than whether their family income this week is low.”

Debate on the nature definitions may seem abstract and academic while children in deprived financial circumstances are in need of practical measures to help.

In one sense I agree. Progress is less likely if a subject is not understood.

Working definitions

I find it useful to think in terms of ‘working definitions’ which are provisional and useful ways of promoting conversation. If we agree in discussion, we have reached a common ‘platform of understanding’.

Lexical definitions

A dictionary provides a set of lexical definitions, sometimes indicating which are archaic [no longer of common usage].

‘Correctness’ of definitions

Based on the context of the Minister’s remarks, he was talking about a search for a definition that would be ‘correct’, that is to say a true representation of something which may be empirical or conceptual. Politicians and law-givers can create one form of legitimacy for a definition ‘Child Poverty is as it was defined under the Poverty of Children act’, or ‘the Poverty of Children investigation’. Politicians would naturally prefer to have a say in what the ‘correct’ definition is. This makes it easier to defend policies by reference to the definition.

It is important to be aware of a pervasive belief that there is a ‘correct’ definition in the stronger sense of capturing the essential features of whatever is being defined.


Professor Keith Grint has argued in his books that definitions of leadership assume ‘essentialism’, [the ‘real stuff’] whereas it may be more value to consider leadership as being defined in terms of non-essential terms such as interpretations of reality ‘as we see it’.

Theoretical definitions

Investigative research requires yet another kind of definition which makes clear the ‘map’ being examined in the research, and offers scope for further enquiry or ‘map-testing’. In this case, the ‘map’ is that of Child Poverty. IThe politicians are attempting to help in the drawing up of the new map.

Where’s the pain?

The clinical and ‘scientific’ approach sets aside real world suffering and pain. Political scientists have the trickier task of indicating they are primarily concerned with more than definitions.

TV Review: Professor Regan’s Medicine Cabinet

April 24, 2009
Lesley Regan

Lesley Regan

I enjoyed watching Professor Regan’s Medicine Cabinet. It was well-packaged, reassuring, and came across as mostly authentic. Come to think of it, such claims are a bit like those made of some of the products examined in the programme

Professor Regan’s Medicine Cabinet went out on BBC2 [2100 BST, April 23rd 2009]. Lesley Regan (I learn) is a celebrity medic. Bit like a Joan Bakewell with (metaphoric) stethoscope. Just in case her own charisma is not enough, she is filmed doing lots of legitimizing things, like going to hushed libraries and making notes with a deeply expensive pen (surely not a product placement). Or consulting other well-polished authorities across well-polished table surfaces. Or explaning the checklist of criteria that serve as credentials for taking a medical document seriously in a scientific court.

On trial in the show were various pharmaceutical remedies. Yes, even up-market programmes have to put someone or something on trial. You don’t have to be posh to play this game, as Joanna Lumley might say, but it don’t ’arf ’elp.

Anyway, the case for blind peer reviews, double blind product studies, and statistical significance tests was well-made. If I have just the teeniest of concerns, it is that Professor Regan did not always keep up to the gold standard with the demonstrations she set up. Perhaps gold-standard double blind product testing was never going to be possible, but in which case a little disclaimer would have done no harm. This is the sort of thing researchers are expected to make even if their studies pass the other scientific criteria. Even the notorious initial publication sparking the MMR clinical disaster at least acknowledged that the study implied causality not proved it.

So when it came to evaluating homoeopathy Professor R was rather stuck. Current theories of physical chemistry deny the possibility that any such approach can have any possibility of working. On the other hand, supporters provided reports which suggested that something might be achieved by the methodology. Fortunately for scientific theory, a very well-qualified statistician was brought in to review the evidence and confirm that large scale studies did not demonstrate such statistically convincing results. That’s OK then. It’s a polite way of saying the small-scale studies were a bit dodgy, or maybe ‘outliers’. And just to add to the damaging evidence, we got some notion into how the placebo effect works, and how homeopathy might be no more than a placebo effect in action

I’m about as convinced that we really understand the phenomenon labeled the placebo effect as we understand the bundle of practices called as homeopathy. But perhaps that’s a positive result from watching the charming Professor Regan. She is helping me develop a healthy scientific skepticism about product claims. Even those of her own brand of TV product.

PS the rugby players sticking their hands into ice water were very watchable too, but the demonstration left me wishing we had a bit more explanation of why that sort of approach would not exactly get the results into the top medical journals. At least, I hope it wouldn’t. I assume the statistician had served his purpose and left before offering his views on study design and sample size.

It is all very tricky, trying to communicate scientific facts and working in the mass media.


The author has consulted no authorities in research methods, medical statistics, or epistemology in preparing this review. All opinions are based solely on personal experience.