Discursive leadership: a note on leadership style

June 23, 2014

Book review: Fairhurst, G.T., (2007) Discursive leadership: in conversation with leadership psychology, Thousand Oaks, Ca: Sage

Tudor Rickards

I became interested recently in Discursive leadership through reading a book on the subject by Gail Fairhurst, an American Professor of Communication Studies.

Many leadership styles have been proposed by practitioners and theorists. They include the charismatic style; those based on theories X, Y, and Z; Machiavelli; authenticity; and moral rectitude.

Discursive leadership may appear to be yet another leadership style. It may also provide challenging insights to a different way of thinking about leadership and the nature of styles.

Discourse and discussion

Readers not acquainted with the term discursive will recognize the similarities with the more familiar concept of discussion. Readers acquainted with post- modern writings will already be aware of discourse theory, which explores the processes of constructing social reality through texts and other narrative structures.

Professor Fairhurst is not describing a style. Indeed, the book rejects the popular view that leadership styles exist as objective phenomena. The departure point is whether a leadership style exists as an objective phenomenon with a measurable and observable essence. The widely- accepted view is that it does, so efforts to study and measure the style are afoot. Professor Fairhurst subscribes to the social constructionist belief that leadership and its various modes are beliefs constructed in social action. It is a point that has been applied to leadership by other scholars such as Keith Grint

This set me wondering whether such a discursive approach could be applied to other leadership concepts. Might charismatic leadership be considered as socially constructed? And how about Authentic Leadership not considered as a style, but as arising from the way in which a social group develops its notions of authenticity?

If Fairhurst’s ideas become more widely accepted, cherished notions of leadership style will receive much-needed revision.

Comments

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Putin’s presidential victory suggests a modification to “leaders we deserve” theory

March 5, 2012

Vladimir Putin, as expected, wins a substantial victory in Russia’s presidential elections. The process raises questions about the proposition that social systems get “the leaders we deserve”

When Leaders we deserve blogs began, nearly 800 posts ago, commentators were quick to point out the implications of its title. Who are the “we”? What have “we” done to “deserve” leaders?

The questions were acknowledged as relevant and in need of deeper examination. It would be accurate to say that such an examination has been more implicit than explicit in subsequent posts.

Esssentialism and leaders we create

The basic idea and assumption behind the title to this blog was that beliefs about leaders are socially-constructed. A more formal treatment by Professor Grint suggests that ideas of an objective essence of leadership (‘essentialism’) are being challenged by newer ideas in which leadership is considered as a social construction. These ideas might have produced a blog entitled “leaders we create”.

Elected leaders

The implication of a social-constructivist view is that a social group has some influence of the acceptance and shaping of beliefs about its leaders. This contrasts with beliefs that leaders have objectively identifiable characteristics which make up the essence of leadership.

The measurable

Attempts to measure “essence of leadership” were weakened after a century of investigations of traits. This helped in the emergence of alternative proposals about the deepest nature of the phenomenon.

The elected leader

At its simplest, we can say that an elective leader is a person accepted as leader by a process of voting. This has considerable merits of reducing uncertainties as the constituency granted legitimate rights casts observable votes.

Putin as elected leader

By this reasoning, Vladimir Putin is the undisputed elected leader of Russia.

Do the Russian people “deserve” Mr Putin?

Some commentators argue that the elections were not “free and fair”. The election takes us back to the question about whether a society gets the leaders it deserves. Does the general proposition still hold? At very least, it needs to be re-examined taking into account the implications of processes which distort the leadership appointment process.

Transformational and pseudo-transformational leadership

The election may be a useful addition to the debate over transformational and pseudo-transformational leadership.

To be continued